As we prepare to celebrate Passover we should remember that the upcoming religious holidays (not only Pesach, but Easter and Ramadan) may provide increased symbolic interest to homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) and domestic extremists—including some perpetrators of hate crimes inspired by or adhering to domestic extremist ideologies—aspiring to target faith-based communities here in the United States. While security experts are not aware of any credible threats surrounding the upcoming religious holiday season, we suggest — out of an abundance of caution — that all synagogues maintain heightened vigilance during Passover. See our suggestions below.
While there have been no recent attacks or plots in the United States specifically targeting a religious holiday celebration, there have been successful and disrupted plots targeting faith-based communities here. Most HVEs and domestic extremists attempting any near-term attacks likely would use simplistic tactics and relatively easily obtainable weapons such as firearms, knives, and vehicles—although some violent extremists have sought to use explosive devices.
Recent incidents targeting houses of worship
- On 15 March 2019, an Australian national allegedly used firearms to attack the Al Noor and Linwood Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, resulting in 50 fatalities and at least 50 non-fatal injuries. Police also discovered two improvised explosive devices in vehicles in connection with the attack.
- On 10 December 2018, an Ohio-based individual was arrested for attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) for allegedly planning a mass-casualty attack on a synagogue in Toledo, Ohio. When researching a location, time, and weapons for the attack, the individual allegedly expressed a desire to attack the greatest number of people and inflict mass casualties.
- On 27 October 2018, a Pennsylvania-based individual, who has been indicted for multiple federal charges including violations of civil rights, allegedly shot and killed 11 worshippers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, wounding two other congregants and four responding law enforcement officers. He is currently awaiting trial for hate crimes and other federal charges.
- On 13 June 2018, a Wisconsin-based individual was arrested and charged with attempting to provide material support to ISIS. The individual allegedly used a pro-ISIS social media account to suggest potential targets for bombing attacks, including churches.
- On 22 December 2017, a California-based individual was arrested and charged with attempting to provide material support and resources to ISIS for a planned attack on a shopping center in San Francisco, California. Investigative reporting indicates the attack was intended to take place on Christmas Day and inflict mass causalities.
Recent statements and media from foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) and FTO supporters online continue calls for attacks against places of worship and specific religious groups. Although HVEs generally do not respond to specific events with violence, we remain concerned that FTO media condemning the New Zealand mosque attacks, coupled with the possibility of repeated calls from FTOs encouraging supporters to attack during Ramadan, could lead to the increased possibility of retaliatory attacks by HVEs in the United States.
Religious holiday gatherings are an attractive target for HVEs and domestic extremists because they offer an opportunity to capitalize on large crowds and increased symbolism of the target; however, most violent extremists are unlikely to act on specific days or in response to calls for action, and are instead influenced by a variety of factors to mobilize to violence.
- Report. Anyone who observes any suspicious behavior is encouraged to contact law enforcement immediately at 888-NYC-SAFE. If you see something, say something.
- Overview. Look at the recent DHS publication, Mass Gatherings: Security Awareness for Soft Targets and Crowded Places, can be a great template for your security planning process. Virtually every suggestion in the document can be applied to your planning process. Organizations should “Connect, Plan, Train, and Report”. Applying these four steps in advance of a possible incident or attack can help better prepare us to proactively think about the role that our whole community plays in the safety and security of our organizations.
- Connect. The first step in the process is to “Connect”. You should have an ongoing relationship with your local police precinct. They should know when your services and programs are scheduled. If you don’t know your local police officials, the JCRC can help. Click here to contact us.
- Plan. Download Potential Indicators, Common Vulnerabilities, and Protective Measures: Religious Facilities and Hometown Security Report Series: Houses of Worship for suggestions and ideas.
- Active Shooter response. Many of our contacts attended active shooter trainings offered in the New York area last week. If you could not attend either session or another training, click here for the JCRC-NY dedicated Active Shooter Resources webpage that includes resources from many sources. If you want to arrange a training the JCRC can help, based on available resources. Click here to contact us.
- Access control. If an attacker can walk into a building unchallenged bad things will happen. No unauthorized person should be able to enter your building at any time. The first step is to develop a feasible access control policy (see our Sample Building Access Policies & Procedures) and to keep any door that cannot be monitored and controlled locked.
- Security personnel. Guards at synagogues vary in quality, but generally, almost anything is better than nothing. Volunteers are good, trained volunteers are better. Uniformed guards (e.g., identifiable shirts, vests, blazers) can be deterrents. Guards who are off-duty or retired police or corrections officers bring experience, training and judgement. To be effective, any guard has to have clear instructions and procedures (see below). NYPD does have a Paid Detail Unit which provides officers to perform off-duty, uniformed security work within New York City for approximately $45/hour. Click here for more information and contact details. For a discussion of armed vs. unarmed guards see our post Armed or unarmed security, what’s best? and a guest post here.
Best wishes for a happy and safe Pesach.
|Quick tips: What should your guard(s) be doing?|
|Guards should not be merely uniformed potted plants adorning your lobby. Rather, they should be an important and active component of your overall security plan.If you have a single guard, his/her logical priority is access control (see our suggestions on how to develop an access control policy here). At the same time, don’t lose sight of other important functions, including:
The security management industry calls instructions for guards, “post orders” which clearly outline the duties, responsibilities, and expectations of security guards. For example, your post orders should clearly set forth your access control policies and define the areas of your property that should be included in a walk-around and their time and frequency (e.g., upon arrival and upon returning from lunch).