‘It’s coming!’ Churches must prepare for ISIS attack, counter-terrorism experts warn

© Toby Melville
Terrorism experts fear supporters of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) will target churches in the UK after extremists attacked Catholic priests in Indonesia and France in recent weeks.

New counter-terrorism advice urges churches to prepare for similar attacks, 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.

Religious institutions are described as “easy targets” in the new measures, which are being issued amid fears an attack “is coming.

The guidelines, called Counter Terrorism Advice for Churches, urge church leaders to be on alert for attackers, who are likely to be armed with knives.

They come two days after an IS suicide bomber attempted to blow himself up during mass in a Catholic church in the Indonesian city of Medan on Sunday.

When the bomb failed to detonate, the 18-year-old pulled out an ax and slashed the priest’s arm.

In July, Catholic priest Jacques Hamel, 85, died after his throat was cut by IS extremists wearing fake bomb belts in a village in Normandy, France.

The attack prompted counter terrorism experts to rewrite advice for religious institutions in the UK.

Counter-terrorism expert Nick Tolson is rewriting the advice for National Churchwatch, an organization which specializes in safety advice for clergy and church workers.

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 told the Mirror.

Churches in the past were considered low risk - now we know an attack is coming ... and churches are one of the easy targets.

It’s likely to be a knife, not a machine gun, but we are covering that too.”

The guidance advises church leaders 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.”

The advice also features images of handguns and semi-automatic AK-47 rifles, urging religious leaders to respond quickly “to give you the best chance of survival.”

The safety of children has been deemed “paramount” and the guidance includes advice on how to handle children separated from their parents during an attack.

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.”