Church officials have been advised to tighten their security measures following the beheading of a Catholic priest by Islamist militants in France yesterday. The advice comes amid warnings that an attack on British soil is “highly likely”.
Although there is no specific intelligence relating to possible attacks on the Christian community, the heinous murder of Father Jacques Hamel, targeted as he celebrated Mass in a provincial church just south of Rouen, has highlighted the potential danger to Christian clergy from Islamic terrorism.
Consequently, the National Police Chiefs’ Council is urging the Christian community to be alert to potential threats but not alarmed, to report any concerns, and to review their security measures.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said: “Following recent events in France, we are reiterating our protective security advice to Christian places of worship and have circulated specific advice today. We are also taking this opportunity to remind them to review their security arrangements as a precaution.
“This is part of our ongoing work with faith organisations, as well as other sectors, to help ensure the safety and security of their staff, visitors and members.”
He added: “There is no specific intelligence relating to attacks against the Christian community in the UK.
“However, as we have seen, Daesh and other terrorist groups have targeted Christian as well as Jewish and other faith groups in the West and beyond. While the threat from terrorism remains unchanged at severe we urge the public to be vigilant.
“Be alert and not alarmed and report any suspicious activity via the anti-Terrorist Hotline on 0800 789321. In an emergency always dial 999.”
Responding to the advice, Caroline Farrow of Catholic Voices told the BBC that in practical terms “very little” could actually be done to protect clergy.
“The church really hasn’t got the money or the desire to be surrounding priests with security guards,” she said.
Highlighting the reluctance of Pope Francis to hire extra security when in November last year Islamic State threatened to wave their flag within the walls of the Vatican, she added: “He said we don’t want the church to be an iron fortress.
“Priests are supposed to be servants of God and servants of the people, and we don’t want to have them one step removed.
“I don’t think you’re going to want to see people surrounding themselves with armed guards,” she concluded.
The advice comes amid warnings that Islamic State has set its sights on London for its next attack. According to analysts at the SITE intelligence group, the jihadi organisation has released images of London landmarks on the messaging app Telegram, the Daily Mail has reported.
Other images depicted global locations, including one of New York’s Statue of Liberty with the words “Washington soon”.
Security has also been increased at France’s 47,000 churches, after Islamic State yesterday urged its followers to carry out attacks against “Christian crusaders”.
St Etienne du Rouvray, where Father Hamel was killed, was just one of a number of Catholic churches on a terrorist ‘hit list’ found on computer sciences student Sid Ahmed Ghlam, a suspected Islamic State extremist, last April.
Ghlam was arrested in Paris after he accidentally shot himself in the leg while planning a terrorist attack. When police raided his apartment they found a terror hit list which included Father Hamel’s church, along with the Sacre-Couer basilica in Paris, among others.