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Attack on religious leader in Sydney to be investigated as terror related, police say

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(SYDNEY) — An attack on a religious leader during a sermon in a suburb of Sydney, Australia, on Monday has been deemed a terror-related incident, police said.

“Anyone with information about extremist activity or possible threats to the community should come forward, no matter how small or insignificant you may think the information may be,” the New South Wales Police Force said in a statement on Tuesday.

The government’s Joint Counter Terrorism Team has begun an investigation into the stabbing, which was first reported to police at about 7 p.m. on Monday.

A 16-year-old suspect was arrested at the scene after being restrained by members of the congregation, police said. He was hospitalized, underwent surgery for injuries sustained during the alleged attack and remained under police guard, they said.

“There is no place for violence in our community,” Anthony Albanese, the prime minister said. “There is no place for violence extremism. We are a peace-loving nation.”

Albanese identified the church as Christ the Good Shepherd, in Wakeley, where an Assyrian Orthodox congregation worships.

A video of the incident, which was viewed by ABC News, appears to show a man approaching the religious leader as he speaks to his congregation. The man appears to interrupt the sermon and to begin violently attacking the man.

Officers who responded to the church on Welcome Road attended to a 53-year-old man “with lacerations to his head,” police said. The man’s name has not been released.

“A 39-year-old man also sustained lacerations and a shoulder wound when he attempted to intervene,” a law enforcement statement said.

Both of the injured were treated by paramedics at the scene and were later taken to Liverpool Hospital, police said, adding that their injuries were not life-threatening.

Police Commissioner Karen Webb deemed the incident terror related, according to the force. It will be investigated by the NSW Police Force, Australian Federal Police, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and the NSW Crime Commission, police said.

The church identified the attacked leader as Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel and asked for privacy during his recovery.

“We strongly condemn this senseless act of violence that took place during his sermon,” the church said in a media release.

The church added, “Such actions not only bring distress bust also contradict the cherished values of compassion and unity that are integral to our Australian identity.”

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