A UK charity that supports persecuted Christians is holding a
conference next week to teach British church leaders how to protect
their buildings from attack by Islamic State (IS).
Barnabas Fund, which mostly gives aid to Christians living in
Muslim-majority countries, has advertised a half-day training
session in central London next Tuesday to church leaders on its
mailing list. The event will be led by Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, the
director of Barnabas Aid International and a former adviser on
Islam to the Ministry of Defence.
An email advertising the closed session states: "Given the
dramatic growth of IS in the Middle East and the increased
anti-Christian rhetoric and attacks from that group . . . the
possibility of an IS attack on British churches cannot be
The training from Dr Sookhdeo would include practical advice on
how to protect congregations without causing alarm of hampering a
church's outreach and mission.
Two academics who have studied Islamist terrorism dismissed the
event as an over-reaction, however, and said that British churches
were almost certainly not at risk of attack from IS or similar
"The idea is bunk. It is nonsensical and ridiculous," said Fawaz
Gerges, Professor of International Relations at the London School
of Economics. "The idea does not make sense to me. It is not a
priority for IS or Al Qaida."
Anthony Glees, the director of the University of Buckingham's
Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies, agreed. "I know of no
intelligence that [IS] are planning to [attack churches]. It is
possible to believe that there may be an intention on the part of
IS supporters to attack Christian churches but to the best of my
knowledge there is no evidence that they have the capability to do
so. In that sense I would say that this is almost certainly an
over-reaction to the situation."
Prof. Gerges feared that Barnabas Fund's conference could be
counter-productive, providing a "moral boost" to IS - because it
showed them that even the Church was afraid of what they could do.
"It tells them 'We are terrorising our enemies,'" he said.
"You're playing into the hands of the radicals who say 'We are a
fifth column in your society.' It's not true at all."
While there was no intelligence to suggest a similar plot was
afoot in Britain, Prof. Glees said it was good to be aware of a
recent French incident, when a Muslim man was arrested by police
who suspected him of planning to attack churches.
But, he said, "Jewish targets are more vulnerable to this kind
of thing than Christian targets. People should be made aware of
what is a very slight risk, but I wouldn't rate it as higher than
A spokesman for Barnabas Fund said that the charity did not want
to comment until after the event had taken place. "This is a
private meeting and we have some security concerns," he said. The
initiative would be publicly rolled out in November.