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Protect your church ‘from IS attack’

19 June 2015


Might the UK follow suit? Belgian soldiers guarding a synagogue in Antwerp in January this year

Might the UK follow suit? Belgian soldiers guarding a synagogue in Antwerp in January this year

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 discounted."

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 groups.

"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 very slight."

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.

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