British church leaders invited to meeting to counter threat of Isis attack

'Given the dramatic growth of IS in the Middle East... the possibility of an IS attack on British churches cannot be discounted'

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The Independent Online

Fears that churches in Britain could face attacks by Isis have prompted one of Britain’s biggest Christian charities to hold a private conference next week on how to counter the threat.

The event has been arranged by the Barnabas Fund, a charity which campaigns against the persecution of Christians around the world. It will address how churches should take steps to make their buildings more secure. Church leaders have been invited to attend the closed event, which will take place in London on 23 June. The session will be led by Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, the director of Barnabas Aid International and a former adviser on Islam to the Ministry of Defence. Delegates will be given practical advice on issues such as how to protect their congregations without causing panic, according to a report in the Church Times.

An email inviting people to attend 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.”

 

But experts have criticised the plans. Fawaz Gerges, Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics, told The Independent: “The counter-terrorism workshop is counterproductive. It does not serve the interests of the churches or the community at large. It plays into the hands of the extremists by hyping up a threat that does not exist to the best of our knowledge.”

He added: “Al Qaeda and ISIS have not targeted churches in the West and have different kinds of high value targets than Christian places of worship.”

And Professor Anthony Glees, director of the University of Buckingham’s Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies, commented: “We haven't been made aware of any intelligence that Isis is planning to attack churches in this country. There is a slight risk to Christian churches given Isis’s history of targeting them in France and Egypt, but it should certainly not be exaggerated in the absence of indications to the contrary.”

A spokesperson for the Barnabas Fund declined to comment on the event, beyond saying: “This is a private meeting and by private invitation.” And in a statement, a spokesperson for the Church of England said: “We’ll let you know if there’s any feedback after the event but we wouldn’t comment prior to it.”

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