Snapshot: Easter risks

Easter, the most important Christian festival, brings significant security and travel risks, spanning everything from potential terrorist attacks on places of worship to striking airline cabin crew disrupting holiday plans. Here are some.

Semena Santa Holy Festival in Cordoba, Spain
Semena Santa Holy Festival in Cordoba, Spain


CONTEXT

Easter, the most important Christian festival, is this year celebrated by Catholics and Protestants from 30 March until 2 April. For other Christian groups, including the Orthodox Church and Coptic Church, Easter Sunday is on 8 April this year. The festival, which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus three days after he was crucified, carries significant security and travel risks.

EVENTS

Terrorism risk
On 28 March, the U.S. Department of State warned of a heightened risk of terrorist attacks in Kosovo in southeastern Europe, particularly at holiday festivals and events around the Catholic and Orthodox Easter celebrations. It said that extremists focus on soft targets, such as houses of worship.

Police in Kosovo have identified 316 Kosovans who joined Islamist extremist groups in Iraq and Syria – the highest number per capita in Europe.

In Israel, the authorities have warned Israeli citizens against travelling to a number of countries during Easter due to the presence of Islamist terrorist groups. These include Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Kenya, Nigeria, Afghanistan and southern Philippines. Israel’s Easter holidays run from 31 March to 8 April.

In Africa, Islamist terrorist groups, including Boko Haram in Nigeria, JNIM in Burkina Faso and al Shabaab in Kenya, could use the holiday to attack Christian worshippers. In Egypt, Coptic Christians are frequently targeted by Islamist terrorists.

In Asia, the Philippine security forces are already on full alert for the 49th anniversary of the founding of the communist New People’s Army on 29 March. There are concerns that concentrations of police and military  could be targeted over Easter. In Indonesia, churches may be targeted by Islamists.

Security risk
In South Africa, holidays such as Easter typically bring a surge in violent crime, including armed robberies, as many people will be withdrawing cash to buy presents or food.

Transport risk
Considerable traffic disruption will be caused by religious processions, such as Semana Santa in Andalucia, Spain, and similar gatherings in Italy and Latin America in the lead up to Easter. Gatherings in Greece and Cyprus for the Orthodox Church Easter the following week will bring similar disruption.

Cabin crew of Irish airline Ryanair in Portugal are set to strike on 29 March, 1 April and 4 April as part of a dispute over working conditions and pay. Meanwhile, the Portuguese borders and immigration service began a three-day strike on 27 March.

In France, Air France unions are striking on Good Friday (30 March) over wage demands, with further industrial action planned for 3 April and 7 April.

And in Britain, members of the RMT railway union on South Western Railway (SWR) are striking from Good Friday until 2 April over safety measures. SWR services cover southern counties from Surrey to Somerset.

ANALYSIS

Organisations should advise personnel in countries with a persistent terrorist threat, including those with a Muslim majority and significant Christian minority, to minimise time spent near Christian gatherings or religious sites. Advise personnel to aware of their surroundings and identify the location of emergency exits and security services.

They should monitor local media, social media, TV and radio for updates and announcements.

Personnel in South Africa should keep the amount of cash they carry to a minimum, and make withdrawals in secure areas, such as their hotel or malls. They should also heighten situational awareness for any covert attention from potential criminals, who have followed potential victims outside of secure areas.

Travellers in areas that could be affected by strikes should reconfirm travel plans and make alternative travel arrangements where necessary.

Logistics operators in Europe and Latin America should expect traffic congestion and disruption.

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