Worshippers told to be vigilant as UK police warn of Christmas attack
GETTY Churches and cathedrals are being protected by unprecedented levels of security
Churches and cathedrals all over Britain have introduced bag searches, check points and crash barriers.
Police have warned those attending festive events, including midnight mass services tonight, to remain extra vigilant following the five terror strikes this year.
Visitors to St Paul’s Cathedral in central London and Canterbury Cathedral in Kent had to pass through increased security yesterday afternoon.
Check points were set up outside both front entrances to St Paul’s, which was manned by guards searching handbags and using airport-style scanners to frisk those attending the Christmas Carol Service.
Security was also tight at the Canterbury Cathedral Service of Carols for Christmas which had the same bag searches in operation.
On Friday night, guests attending the popular Nine Lessons and Carols I at York Minster had their belongings searched more than an hour before the event started.
The cathedral, home to the Archbishop of York, introduced bag searches after the Manchester Arena suicide bomb blast in May, which killed 22 innocent people, many of them teenagers.
Last month, a protective barrier comprising of 12 security blocks was installed by the front of the building and Cathedral Constables, who now hold similar powers to the police, have increased their high visibility patrols.
Dean of York, the Very Reverend Dr Vivienne Faull, said the measures were brought in after the Counter Terrorism Unit recommended "urgent and decisive action" to protect the area.
Dr Faull said: “Some experts within the UK’s security community believe that we are facing a generational problem which may last for 20 or 30 years.
The appalling attacks in Manchester and London earlier this year have required all those responsible for the security of nationally important buildings, monuments and public spaces to reassess, review and constantly refine their arrangements for keeping people safe.
“Chapter has been concerned about the potential vulnerability of the area around the Minster’s West End for some time.
“We have a clear duty of care to everyone who visits York Minster and we will do everything we can to ensure that our worshippers and visitors feel safe and secure when they are here.”
On Thursday, guests attending the annual Whitehall Carol service in Westminster Abbey had to enter through a heavily guarded security barrier at the side of the building.
The Abbey is opposite Parliament and Westminster Bridge, where terrorist Khalid Masood rampaged in March, killing five people including PC Keith Palmer.
Intelligence sources say the Government’s Protect and Prepare strategies have issued security advice to churches and other religious sites.
While there is no specific threat against Christmas services, groups like Islamic State are known to favour targeting Christian holidays.
Extremists have also become more vocal this year in their criticism of Muslims being incorporated into Christmas, which they see as a sin.
Boxer and I’m A Celebrity star Amir Khan received death threats after decorating his home with a Christmas tree.
Last July, 84-year-old Catholic priest Jacques Hamel was murdered after his throat was slashed by two Islamic State supporters as he gave mass at his church in Rouen, northern France.
Haras Rafiq, chief executive of counter-extremism organisation, Quilliam International, said that attack changed the landscape.
He explained: “Churches and places of worship were not traditionally high priority targets for terrorists in Europe but it changed from that that moment on.
“Religious sites are now viewed as a potential target and the security around them has had to be strengthened.
“The terrorist threat in this country is unprecedented and Christmas being a major Christian celebration means that security services are working flat out to protect people, with a particular focus on areas where people congregate in big numbers.
This includes sports stadiums, shopping centres but also church and carol services."
GETTY Visitors to St Paul’s Cathedral in London are passing through increased security
An National Police Chiefs' spokesman said: "At this busy time of year, whatever the event or venue, Counter Terror policing and local forces have worked with organisers and partners across the country to give advice and guidance on safety and security measures.
"Our priority is the safety and security of all those attending, and the public are encouraged to continue with their plans to enjoy festive events but remain alert and report any concerns to event staff or police."
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, will refer to the terror attacks in London and Manchester during his annual New Year Message.
*Westminster attacker Khalid Masood conducted "reconnaissance" of Westminster Bridge just days before carrying out his deadly attack, a report has revealed.