Department of Homeland Security

DHS warns of increased threat of attacks on houses of worship when services resume

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Houses of worship will be at increased risk for attacks once coronavirus-related restrictions on public gatherings are lifted, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has warned.

“When you begin efforts to reconstitute services and welcome congregants back into your houses of worship, please also review your security plans and ensure procedures are in place to protect your facilities and visitors,” Brian Harrell, assistant director for infrastructure security at DHS, wrote in a letter addressed to the faith-based community and first obtained by Politico.

Harrell wrote that the letter was not based on any specific imminent threats but said online hate speech intended to either incite violence or exploit the pandemic to spread such rhetoric was on the rise during the outbreak. He added that “stressors caused by the pandemic may contribute to an individual’s decision to commit an attack or influence their target of choice.”

In March, the department also sent a memo to law enforcement officials cautioning them that violent extremists would intensify efforts to exploit the pandemic, while the FBI warned of white supremacists who have encouraged followers to attempt to transmit the virus to Jewish people in “any place they may be congregated, to include markets, political offices, businesses and places of worship.”

“The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is committed to supporting your efforts to maintain safe and secure houses of worship and related facilities while sustaining an open and welcoming environment,” Harrell wrote.

“In partnership with entities such as the DHS Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives and the Faith-Based Information Sharing and Analysis Organization, we provide resources that assist in securing physical and cyber infrastructure,” he added.

The pandemic has forced the shutdown of houses of worship and public religious gatherings worldwide, from the Vatican, where Pope Francis held Palm Sunday mass in an empty St. Peter’s Square, to Saudi Arabia, where the government has banned pilgrimages to Mecca.

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