TGS Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime Expert
“Terrorism is a tactic of extremists within each religion, and within secular religions of Marxism or nationalism. No religion, including Islam, preaches indiscriminate violence against innocents” (Juan Cole).
The human race is under attack by violent extremist, anarchist and criminals from all angles of the globe in the name of religion and complete blind trust from leaders, that followers need not find time nor reason to think for themselves - a point at which religion truly becomes evil in the eyes of ordinary observers. As the festive period approaches its peak - Dec.2015 - millions of unsuspecting worshippers heavily armed with holy books - Bibles, Korans… and young children are making genuine preparations to visit various places of worship. Their reasons are as diverse in thought and expectations as religion itself. Some people have been visiting places of worship from birth and hold that as a genuine reason; Some visit to give thanks to one supreme immortal God for their life blessings; others to ask for forgiveness for their past year ‘sins’; for some denominations - to celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ – born to die in order for mankind to be saved; others to seek for new year beginnings and receive in spirit, a road map and clear guidance from the supreme immortal being – God.
In recent, as in historical times, a familiar visitor in places of worship - violent extremist, anarchists and criminal gangs comprised of men and women of no particular age or background - are equally making preparations to attend services in places of worship – heavily armed , their weapon of choice – AK47s… IEDs, VIEDs; suicide bombings; Cutlasses & machetes; the reason for attending is not to pray or ask for any kind of forgiveness like the former. It is simply to inflict terror by killing as many innocent people as possible (worshippers, religious leaders) using religion as justification for their atrocities and injustices.
Does any religion hold monopoly to violence?
It is widely argued that;
“More wars have been waged, more people killed, and more evil perpetrated in the name of religion than by any other institutional force in human history. The sad truth continues in our present day” (Charles Kimball). And “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction. “(Blaise Pascal 1623-1662).
It therefore requires a huge percentage of intellectual blindness to assume that Christians of Western or European heritage are the ‘good’ and ‘peace loving’ guys and Muslims are inherently evil and violent. If one were to look back at the European Christian nations conquering of Africa and the eventual slavery and the period of inquisition – non- believers in Christ were tortured and executed for refusing to accept Jesus Christ as saviour. There should be no excuses or finger pointing of one religious group against another. Killing under the banner of any religion at any time is forbidden, abhorrent and should be condemned.
Why do terrorists, anarchist or criminals attack places of worship?
“When the hoped-for ideal is tied to a particular religious worldview and those who wish to implement their vision become convinced that they know what God wants for them and everyone else, you have a prescription for disaster” (Charles Kimball).
Bombings and attacks in places of worship for whatever reason other than reasonable self-defense is condemned by the laws of God/Allah and the laws of man. A number of coordinated attacks illustrate that places of worship are not an ‘accidental guerilla’ against attacks by terrorists or other fanatics.
June 2015 - Charleston, South Carolina, U.S, a lone gunman opened random fire in a black church and killed 9 people. In Oct. 2015, a gunman stormed Turning Point Adventist Community Church in Roseburg, Ore, U.S and killed at least 9 members of the congregation.
2014- Boko Haram fighters set fire on five churches in communities south of Borno, namely Kwajaffa, Tashan Alade and some communities in Hawul Local Government Area in the southern part of the state.
January 5, 2012- Gunmen attacked a church in Gombe State. Reports of the number killed vary between three and six. Boko Haram was suspected of carrying out the attack.
January 6, 2012 - Shooting at a church in Yola. Eight people were killed. Boko Haram was suspected of carrying out the attack.
February 26, 2012 - A Boko Haram suicide bomber killed six Christians in an attack at a church in Jos, Plateau State.
March 11, 2012 - A suspected Boko Haram suicide bomber killed three civilians in a bombing outside a church in Jos. Christian youths killed at least ten people in reprisal attacks.
April 8, 2012 (Easter Day) - A suicide bomber in a vehicle detonated explosives near a church in Kaduna killing at least 38 people. Boko Haram was suspected of carrying out the attack.
April 29, 2012 - Suspected Boko Haram gunmen attacked a church in Kano and Maiduguri, killing at least 15 and 4 people respectively.
June 3, 2012- A suicide bomber killed at least 12 people at a church in the northern town of Yelwa, Bauchi State. Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the attack.
June 17, 2012 - Coordinated suicide car bombings of three churches in the neighboring cities of Zaire and Kaduna in Kaduna State.
September 23, 2012 - A suicide bomber blows up his explosives-laden car near a church in the city of Bauchi, killing a female worshipper and her son and injuring dozens.
October 28, 2012 - Ten killed and 145 injured in a suicide bomb attack on a church in Kaduna.
January 19, 2011- Deeper Life Christian Church pastor and three of his neighbours are killed by fundamentalists.
May 11, 2011 - Boko Haram gunmen kill a cleric, Mallam Alhaji Abur, who was a critic of the Boko Haram Islamic sect.
July 10, 2011- Bombing of the All Christian Fellowship Church in Suleja, Niger State, killing 3 people and wounding 7 others.
December 25, 2011- Multiple bomb attacks against churches and Christian worshippers throughout Nigeria.
November 19, 2010- Suspected Boko Haram members open fire in a mosque during Juam'at prayer. Three persons are killed in the process.
None of these attacks can be reasonably justified. It is worth mentioning key reasons why places of worship generally fall victims to attacks by terrorists or criminals.
- Places of worship are seen as representing the physical address of a different religion to that of the perpetrator and therefore a target for attack.
- Revenge attacks: Muslims or Christians have justified attacking or burning down places of worship of the ‘other’ religion as a revenge for experiencing a similar act on their premise. In some occasions places of worship have been under attack as a result of the killing of a Christian or Muslim by a member of one of the denominations.
- The spiritual leader of the targeted place of worship preaches or promotes a system of religion/worship that is considered contrary or opposing to that of the perpetrator.
- They have members who are seen as inferior or apostates to the perpetrator’s religion. Or are simply seen to harbour such members in their premises.
- They house valuable assets and money needed by the perpetrators to service their group or sect.
- Places of worship have little physical security making them naturally soft targets and vulnerable to any type of attacks.
- They are good targets for maximum media propaganda needed to score the attacker or group global recognition.
Solutions: How to mitigate against attacks.
To those who believe that a supreme immortal being – God- exist and the same God created humans and bestowed upon them the free will to know right from wrong and good from evil; they must remember that as mortals we have the first responsibility and duty to protect ourselves, possessions, places of worship, assets from any man made physical harm or attacks irrespective of where that harm takes place. Prayers alone will not protect us from the evil of men.
There is no doubt that places of worship are a soft and valuable target for both terrorist and criminal gangs especially during festive periods and significant religious events. Now that Christmas and New Year celebrations are approaching with full speed, all religious leaders, worshippers and State security services must take full responsibility to work hand in gloves to mitigate against any potential attacks at places of worship by carrying out the following proposed security measures.
- All places of worship should introduce a well-tailored security awareness ‘training the trainer’ program provided by both internal and external qualified bodies– A basic program should cover : How to carry out basic risk assessment of the premises; How to spot vulnerabilities, suspicious behaviours, suspect packages, stranger dangers, enemies from within etc. The best way to achieve the above is by using sermons, allocated seminars and presentations tailored to the audience and delivered by trained internal or external bodies.
- All places of worship should have a comprehensive security policy designed, supervised and managed by an appointed security committee head. The committee should in the best, include a security consultant with specialized knowledge of the subject matter. Selected, trained competent members of the congregation must play a key role in the activities of the security committee. Members of the committee must be security vetted by an independent body, ideally the local police service and trained to a high standard of security alertness and stranger danger etc.
- Operationally, the committee must ensure that the premises or any part of a premise is secured and locked before and after use. Windows and doors should be regularly checked against any vulnerabilities. Any vandalism or break-in should not be concluded as ‘theft motivated’ simply because valuable items were stolen. High quality locking mechanisms should be introduced and key holders must be highly vetted. Access to the premises should not be possible by a single key holder.
- ‘Knowing your neighbour as yourself’ should be promoted between worshippers. The security committee should have a ‘membership registration service’ for both old and new members. Permanent seat allocation should be considered where feasible. The in-house data generated must be securely kept to avoid fire, flood or cyber damages. Because these records are highly sensitive and subject to abuse, steps must be implemented to guard against such practices by anyone within or without the committee or places of worship.
- For the benefit of all, worshippers should be encouraged to know (At least by their real names rather than aliases) their immediate worship neighbours and share in their daily pains and gains. This will create an atmosphere of free interaction between worshippers.
- All new worshippers and visitors MUST register to the allocated security desk prior to attending worship service. Character references should be made available to ascertain identity of any new member or visitor. Ideally existing worshippers should vouch for new members or visitors.
- Worshippers or visitors should be encouraged to avoid carrying large bags, briefcases or obscure items to places of worship – Those who carry bags or any other item should be properly scanned using approved metal detectors and bag scanners irrespective of their position in church or community. A separate room for large items should be considered – a reasonable distance from the worship premises.
- The attitude of ‘Park as you like’ should stop. Vehicle owners should be allocated parking spaces away from the actual places of worship. These vehicles should equally be scanned using appropriate and approved metal detectors and underbody vehicle scanners before they are cleared for parking. Ideally, Automatic Vehicle Number Plate Recognition System should be used (AVNPRS) for record keeping. All car parks must be manned by trained security operatives – car parks must be security cleared before and after services. To avoid unnecessary congestion around the premises and car parks, members that live within walking distances from the place of worship should be encouraged to walk.
- To mitigate against the possibility of a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs) at places of worship, where necessary, the security committee should seriously consider appropriate security Bullard’s. These Bullard’s prevent forced gate crashing by a potential suicide bomber with a vehicle loaded with IEDs.
- Places of worship should prioritize investing in high quality CCTV cameras with off premise control room capabilities. Obscured places including toilets, storage spaces, under seats, compartments must be security checked for any hidden devices or packages and cleared before and after each service. All checks must cover internal and external perimeter including; fencing patrol, access control, burglar and fire alarms, vulnerable external and internal points. For effective results, the services of a trained security personnel with the knowledge and capability should ideally be sort.
- Approved building permission should be granted to restrict random make- shift dilapidated houses used as places of worship. A well-structured building will ensure security of members and staff and provide a standard platform to implement strict security measures. Church leaders must have a minimal duty of care and responsibility to the safety and security of their members and visitors when in their premises.
- During service, vigilance, overt and covert communication is key from Imams, Pastors, Priests… members of the congregation and security officers. Ideally to avoid unwarranted sharp shooters bursting into places of worship during ongoing services– a policy to refuse members (old and new) from gaining access to a place of worship more than 30mins after commencement of service should be introduced. Odd behaviours such as people pacing around or in the premises, running out or towards the premises, leaving bags or other items unattended should immediately alert security attention.
- Worshippers should leave the place of worship immediately after service and avoid loitering or creating clusters around the worship premises – a ready target for suicide bombers and other attacks.
- Terrorist groups survive on resources such as money, food and expensive artifacts. Places of worship deal hugely in cash and store thousands of expensive valuables from members and other donors in known locations. It is therefore a very soft target and good source for terrorist needing cash and valuable to sustain the movement. Therefore securing your cash and valuables must be top priority by well-trained security operatives with the required capability. Cash or valuables must not stay in the premises for an agreed amount of time. The necessary cash securing and transit measures should be put in place or improved.
- General security must be taken very seriously and places of worship are advised to seek expert security opinion on mitigation techniques and the implementation or formation of an in-house security committee.
- A crisis management procedure must be introducedto cover the following key areas; How to react and stay calm but vigilant during an incident; Mastering your exit strategy; Active shooting & taking cover techniques; Surviving fire hazards; Lockdown mechanism, and staying safe; Making life or death choices- plead – flee - or fight scenarios; Using emergency press buttons and making calls etc. Overcrowding the scene of an accident or explosion should be avoided by all members and visitors.
- As a multi agency approach is needed for maximum security, it is invaluable that places of worship must liaise directly through the security committee channel and work hand in gloves with the state security services. A referral procedure should be agreed and designed. Information sharing should be established based on TRUST and agreed protocols. The place of worship should NOT be a spy agent for the state.
- PRAYERS alone from the man of God cannot stop attacks. Worshippers are edged to exercise extreme vigilance during and after festive periods.
This is not an exhaustive list of security measures that places of worship can adopt. Seeking expert and professional opinion is highly advisable at all levels. There is no known full proof against attacks in places of worship. A 100% security mitigation is not achievable but worshippers have to remember that terrorist and criminals just need one loose opportunity to get lucky – worshippers on the other hand, have to be lucky all the times. A joint multi-agency approach between religious leaders, members of the congregation, external security consultants and the local police will make places of worship a hard target for terrorists and criminals at all times.
The above measures are simply preventive measures that really do not address the underlying causal facts of attacks in places of worship. A more proactive step should encourage all religions to come together and establish an effective communication platform that will promote the detailed understanding of each faith through interfaith dialogues and social interactions groups. Without such platforms, the sensitivity and vulnerability of religion and its preaching of peace and justice will be hijacked by extremist, criminals and anarchist and used as an excuse to kill innocent people in places of worship.
The good God/Allah can only help those who help themselves. Proactive prevention is always better than 'fire fighting'.
By David Otto
TGS Counter terrorism & organized crime expert
General inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org