By Nadeem Badshah
PLACES of worship are planning to step up security after a spate of recent crimes, it has emerged.
Tests are being carried out on how to put a mosque in lockdown during a security scare and having a radio system where local masjids can communicate during a police incident, a community leader revealed. It comes after Raafat Maglad was stabbed in the neck in front of worshippers during prayers at London Central Mosque in February.
Meanwhile, Hindu community groups and temples have held safety and security awareness sessions and workshops. Some cathedrals and churches have hired bouncers to protect stained glass windows and other features after a rise in thefts and vandalism.
Mohamed Omer, a government adviser on Muslim issues, told Eastern Eye: “Radio contact with other people in parts of the building to share intelligence like a police radio, in the same area, that is what they are trying to do.
“I do foresee they may have to hire security guards like in Jewish synagogues. Also, looking at the times mosques are open, restricting to 15-30 minutes before and after salah. A lockdown situation is in the final test phases to enhance security.
“Mosques have volunteers during Friday prayers to patrol outside traffic and security. After the Regent’s Park [stabbing], some of the bigger mosques like East London Mosque have Police Community Support Officers outside.”
He added: “Most of the community have said they should be a lot more alert, have better communication and improved CCTV.
“It is difficult to protect, you can’t search people coming in, so you have to be alert and vigilant.”
There was a 10 per cent rise in hate crimes recorded by police in England and Wales in 2018-2019, with a record 103,379 offences, according to Home Office data.
Race hate crimes accounted for around three quarters of offences (78,991) and rose by 11 per cent on the previous year. Incidents based on the victim’s religion rose three per cent to 8,566.
Hindu Council UK said security at places of worship is being discussed by groups and temples across the country.
Rajnish Kashyap, general secretary and director of the organisation, told Eastern Eye: “Hindu religious places normally have their doors wide open, they don’t close their doors and don’t have that mindset of even having any perimeter access control. “The Hindu Council UK’s advice would be in certain circumstances to include physical security infrastructure. This means having the security infrastructure over the building, site and surrounding streets.
“For example, adding a fence, where CCTV should be placed and door reinforcements.
“In most of the Hindu temples, donations are normally done in cash, so, it’s advisable not to keep too much cash on the premises.”
Recent hate crimes include a 15-year-old Sikh boy wearing a turban being punched in Leeds last month.
In January, anti-Islamic slogans were painted on a building close to a mosque and cultural centre in Brixton, south London.
In Walsall, Midlands, a thug used a wooden stick to smash several statues outside a Hindu temple last June.
Imran Awan is a professor of criminology at Birmingham City University. He said: “The attack at the London Central Mosque further reveals the need to better understand the ideology of white supremacy and also assist with internal and external security measures. Mosques should continue to keep their doors open and with further support from local communities, mosques should be able to continue as normal.”
A £500,000 fund for places of worship in Scotland to install security measures will be launched later this year.
There has been a similar Home Office fund for places of worship in England since 2016.
Fund to protect holy places doubled
MINISTERS have doubled the security funding available for places of worship in their fight against hate crime, with £3.2 million earmarked for 2020-2021.
The Places of Worship Protective Security Funding scheme, now running for around four years, provides funding for measures such as CCTV, fencing, gates, alarms and lighting, to places of worship and associated faith community centres that are vulnerable to hate crimes.
The Home Office said this week that 27 mosques, 13 churches, five gurdwaras and four Hindu temples have received £1.6m in funding for 2019-20, the largest funding in a single year since the scheme was set up in 2016.
“No one should be fearful about practicing their faith. Any place of worship should be a space of reflection and safety,” said Baroness Susan Williams, the Home Office minister for countering extremism.
“The places of worship scheme provides that physical security. However, we can do more, which is why we want to hear from worshipers about how we can protect them better from the terrible attacks.”
Last Sunday (15), on the one-year anniversary of the Christchurch terror attack in New Zealand, Britain also launched a new consultation for faith groups. The consultation, lasting eight weeks, will ask faith groups what else should be done to help them feel safe and confident while practising their religion.
It will enable all faith groups to share their experiences of hate crime and provide insight for the government in keeping pace with the evolving threat.
“The results of the consultation will then be analysed and considered as part of future steps on how the government can protect religious groups,” the Home Office said.
It added that under its a new simplified system for applicants, a central contractor will install better physical security, such as locks, lighting and CCTV.
All applications are assessed and funding provided to those who are most vulnerable to hate crime attacks.