Australian officials are finding it increasingly harder to figure out when a terrorist attack may occur, in what the Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil has described as a “trend”.

After a 16-year-old boy allegedly stabbed a prominent Assyrian Christian bishop and priest at a southwest Sydney church on Monday night, officials were quick to declared it a “terrorist” act, likely religiously motivated.

The boy has not yet been charged and remains in police custody as investigations continue.

Authorities did not have him on any lists.

A day after Australia’s top intelligence official said unsuspecting lone wolf attacks had been somewhat expected, Ms O’Neil said that was unfortunately a reality.

“Our law enforcement officials are very good at what they do, and we know that they have successfully thwarted about 21 terrorist attacks, things that would have been incredibly violent incidents, over the last decade,” she told Channel 7.

“It is correct to say that we are seeing a trend where it is harder for us to discern when a terrorist attack like this may occur, but I would say that police and our law enforcement officials are very good at this and I’m confident in their abilities.”

On Tuesday, ASIO director-general Mike Burgess reiterated what he had said in late 2022 when the terror threat level was lowered to “possible”.

“I said at the time that possible does not mean negligible, and the most likely attack would be an individual that goes to violence with little or no warning, with a knife, car or gun,” he said.

“And sadly, we’ve seen that.”

Mr Burgess said Monday’s lone wolf attack was not enough to raise the terror threat level.

Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley said she had “great faith” in Mr Burgess’ abilities to lead Australia through the terrorist response.

“If additional security measures need to be put in place via other means, then of course, we would support that,” she said.

“We’ve been on a unity ticket with the government about this when it comes to the responses to terror or responses on our street.”

Local federal MP, Dai Le, is concerned about the implications of what deeming the incident a terrorist act would have on the broader community.

“I think we’re just going to have to wait and see what’s going to happen with the new terrorist act and how that’s going to impact the community,” she told ABC.

Asked if he was concerned about a retaliation after the church attack, NSW Premier Chris Minns said there was “no point pretending everything is normal”.

“I’m not going to sugar-coat it. It’s a combustible situation,” he told Channel 7.

He called for calm and urged people not to take matters “into their own hands”, making reference to the swarm of people who arrived outside the church immediately following the attack, which caused police to barricade themselves inside with the alleged perpetrator.

Police vehicles were damaged and two officers were injured in the melee.

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