Monday 19 February 2018

Congregation feared ISIS-style terror attack after man walked into church with shotgun shouting threats

The Compassion centre, Ballymun, scene of armed robbery.
The Compassion centre, Ballymun, scene of armed robbery.

Conor Feehan and Lesley-Anne McKeown

A Dublin congregation thought they were going to be killed in an ISIS-style terrorist attack when a masked man brandishing a sawn-off shotgun ran into their church shouting threats.

The shocking incident happened in Ballymun yesterday when the lone gunman robbed the worshipers at the event for Born Again Christians in Hill City Church in the local enterprise centre.

The man pointed the gun at their heads and demanded their phones and wallets before fleeing in a car belonging to one of the congregation.

The congregation were forced to lie on the ground after being threatened with a sawn off shotgun.

Children cried in terror as the gunman stalked the venue collecting money, phones and car keys.

Around 40 people, including children, were praying when the man entered the Compassion Centre just before midday yesterday.

Many of the worshippers were there for the first time having been invited under an Ask A Friend initiative.

The raider threatened to shoot anyone who refused to hand over their valuables.

He then escaped in a Fiat Punto belonging to a churchgoer after using a belt to tie the doors of the church shut.

Senior pastor John Eniola said it had been a "frightening" experience, but that he forgave the gunman and prayed for him.

He said: "He put a gun to one of the members' heads, gave him a bag and told him to collect the money and phones. He did that and then he fled.

"It was frightening but we all stayed calm and did not struggle."

Mr Eniola, who had been sitting at the front of the building, added: "He came in through the back door. He had a balaclava covering his face. He came in with a gun, a shotgun, and he was shouting 'everybody to the ground, bring out your money, your wallets and your phones.' He said 'I am not joking, if any of you move, I will shoot'.

"Thankfully nobody was hurt. There was no fire.

"For a moment it was frightening because this man was carrying a gun. We have never seen anything like that before but we pray for him, we forgive him and we would like to see him in church.

"We knew it was a robbery because he was threatening and just asking for wallets and money. If it had been a terror attack it would have been different.

"We suspect it was a man looking for money to buy drugs."

One of the church's Pastors told Anton Savage on TodayFM about the incident:

"He was shouting and screaming and telling people ‘Hey, I’m here for your money. I want your valuables, your keys and your cars. I want your keys out. Empty your pockets. I want purses, wallets and everything out’.

"He continued to swear. He grabbed one of the congregates and gave him a bag to walk around with him. He started going to our sound desk and demanded that the young teenagers give him their phones. He started walking through the congregation.

"He told everyone to lay down but to empty their pockets.

"I really think he would have done a lot better if he had just come to the door and said he was hurting and that he needed help. If we had an offering for him he would have done a lot better."

He explained what was taken during the incident.

"He got one man’s wallet, one woman’s purse and between seven to ten phones as well. He got some baby food and nappies.

"[The ordeal] lasted four minutes which sounds short but when you’re at gun point it’s a long time.

"It lasted forever when the gun could have gone at any moment.

"As he was leaving he started screaming about keys. He wanted a get away car.

"When he left we gathered together and prayed for each other and prayed for him mostly.

"Everyone forgave him and we look forward to seeing him in the church someday.

"We’d like to see him acknowledge what he did and see him seek forgiveness."

The robber was described as very nervous and shouted with a Dublin accent. He was also caught on CCTV which is now being examined by gardai.

The cameras also picked up images of him putting on the balaclava before entering the church.

“Gardai are confident of a breakthrough in the case. This was a terrifying but amateur robbery and the getaway car was found intact in nearby Poppintree,” a source told the Herald.

Kidias Simari, one of the pastors at the church, said the gunman pointed the weapon at him.

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