For several years now we have read about attacks on congregations during church services in countries like India and Pakistan, Nigeria, Tanzania and other places where there is a significant Muslim presence. The time has now come when we can expect to see similar things in Western Europe, for example in Germany, France, Denmark, the Netherlands, and, probably at the top of the list – Sweden.
ISIS has arrived in force in Göteborg and other Swedish cities. Members of the Islamic group have been present for several years. Their supporters stand in the main shopping centre in Göteborg every week, but the activists have previously travelled away to the Middle East to commit their war crimes. Some have now returned. More have come with the flow of refugees, as ISIS announced they would. Estimates are that several dozen arrived each week. At one refugee residence in West Sweden, a reliable source expressed the view that nearly all the men living there were ISIS; a single Christian from Damascus was found among them and was removed to a safe location. The individual concerned, whom I have spoken to, described constant harrassment.
If you are still sceptical and think this is scare-mongering – last week, a restaurant in the Göteborg suburb of Frölunda, owned by an Assyrian Christian, was sprayed with ISIS slogans – “Convert or die”, “Caliphate is here” and the Arabic “N” symbol applied to Christian property in places which have been taken over by ISIS.
These people are fanatical, ruthless, care nothing about human life – their own or other people’s. They are driven by a visceral hatred of Christianity and Christians. Given the established technique of terrorisation, as prescribed in the Koran (3:151, 8, 12), the kind of actions that are possible include suicide bombing, hostage-taking and shootings of congregations at church gatherings or when emerging from services. Worst-case scenarios are the kind of events that occurred at a theatre in Moscow in October 2002, a school in Beslan in September 2004, and a synagogue in Jerusalem in November 2014.
Catholic churches should in particular take this seriously. They are well attended, especially those which host congregations membership from Syria and Iraq. Unlike the small Syrian Orthodox communities where everyone is known and recognised, their congregations are large enough for strangers to be able to slip in without being noticed.
I would expect that nothing will happen at least until the New Year. A major incident now will turn public opinion decisively against the “open doors” policy before ISIS has had time to assemble its forces.
This gives church authorities – priests, administrators and the bishops themselves, a brief window of opportunity to take the necessary steps to reduce the vulnerability of people attending church services. This threat needs to be taken seriously and as a matter of urgency. If people say they want to kill you, it is folly to ignore them, especially if they have an established record as killers.
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