Acts of targeted violence against houses of worship (HoWs) are a real—and
potentially growing—problem in the United States and a top priority for the
U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). As the Nation’s risk advisor, the
Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) prepared this guide
to help faith-based organizations (FBOs) develop a comprehensive security
strategy for adoption to the unique circumstances of every church, mosque,
synagogue, temple, and other sites of religious practice across the country.
To better understand the nature of the problem, CISA drew on open source
research to compile 37 incidents of targeted violence covering the ten-year
period from 2009 to 2019. The analysis drawn from these case studies directly
informs the guidance presented here and reveals several noteworthy trends.
• CISA observed a significant spike in incidents of targeted violence in 2012
and a discernible increase in the number of incidents between 2015 and
- As a result of these 37 incidents, 64 people lost their lives and 59
people suffered injuries.
• Fifty-four percent (n=20) of the attacks were an armed assault of some
kind, including shootings, edged weapons, and vehicular assaults. Five of the
attacks qualified as mass shootings.
• CISA determined that 67 percent (n=25) of the attacks were motivated by
hatred of a particular racial or religious identity, and that 22 percent (n=8)
were connected to a domestic dispute or personal crisis. The motivation for
the remaining 11 percent (n=4) is unknown.
• Of the 36 known perpetrators in these incidents, 58 percent (n=21) engaged
in some form of planning behavior indicating their intention to carry out an
Within this analysis, CISA also describes several commonly used tactics and
methods employed by the perpetrators. These tactics and methods point to
specific areas of vulnerability that houses of worship can address through the
security framework included within this guide. The bottom line is that houses
of worship can best protect themselves by adopting a comprehensive and multilayered security strategy.