UK – Churches must prepare for IS attackscounter-terrorism experts warn


Following attacks by Islamic extremists on Catholic priests in Indonesia and France in recent weeks, counter terrorism experts fear Islamic State supporters will target churches in the UK and other European countries. The attacks prompted counter terrorism experts to rewrite advice for religious institutions in the UK.

Churches and other religious institutions are described as “easy targets” in the new guidelines, called Counter Terrorism Advice for Churches, which are being issued amid fears an attack ”is coming.”They urge church leaders to be on alert for attackers, who are likely to be armed with knives.

Counter-terrorism expert Nick Tolson, who is an expert in dealing with terrorist threats is rewriting the guidelines for National Churchwatch, an organization which specializes in safety advice for clergy and church workers. The latest advice issued to churches urges them to prepare for similar attacks to those in France and Indonesia, including learning how to identify a semi-automatic weapon, how to challenge a suspicious person and how to take cover in the event of gunfire.

 “Since the French attack we have to look at the possibility of an attack on a church in this country. The risk level has gone up,” Tolson  said. “Churches in the past were considered low risk – now we know an attack is coming … and churches are one of the easy targets. He added “It’s likely to be a knife, not a machine gun, but we are covering that too.” The guidelines also feature images of handguns and semi-automatic AK-47 rifles.

Church leaders are being told to evacuate a congregation in the event someone pulls out a knife. “They are at risk. It only takes seconds for someone to stab a large number of people as we have seen.” Religious leaders are urged to respond quickly to an attack“to give you the best chance of survival.” The report says: “It does not matter whether they have a pistol, rifle or a machine gun. A firearm will kill a large number of people very quickly.”

Special advice is given on how to handle Sunday School children who may get separated from their parents : “Obviously the safety of children is paramount and understandably the parents will be frantic.”

 “We used to say hide under the table, but [terrorists] will come and shoot you. Now it’s all about running away,” Tolson said.

“If you saw [the attacks] in Nice the police were shouting to run – the new guidance is about getting distance.”

Clergy have also been advised by counter-terror chiefs not to wear collars in public to prevent them being targeted. This is similar to earlier anti-terrorist advice given to the military who are no longer allowed to wear uniform except when on duty and to police who were advised to leave their uniforms at the station when they go home.

The new anti-terrorism Guidelines for UK Churches were issued two days after an IS suicide bomber attempted to blow himself up during mass in a Catholic church in the Indonesian city of Medan.

The Metropolitan Police’s deputy assistant commissioner Neil Basu also wrote to UK church congregations as a direct response to the murder of Fr Hamel in France: “We are again reminded of the indiscriminate nature of terrorism and the brutal and senseless actions of these criminals.” He added: “Church leaders and their congregations here in the UK should remain alert not alarmed. There is no current intelligence to suggest any attack planning of this nature in this country.”

“However I know these are troubling times and it makes sense for all church leaders to review their security plans and to encourage their flock to be vigilant.”

ACN Malta