ALGECIRAS, SPAIN (AP) – Spanish police on Thursday raided the home of a Moroccan man held over the machete attacks at two Catholic churches on Wednesday night that left a church officer dead and a priest injured in the southern city of Algeciras.
A police investigation directed by a National Court judge considers Wednesday’s violence a possible act of terrorism.
The suspect is believed to have acted alone.
“The investigation is continuing along the logical premise that this could be a case of terrorism, but we are in the initial phase and all the possibilities are open,” Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said after the police completed their search of the suspect’s home. The suspect is a Moroccan citizen with no prior criminal record “either in Spain or any other country”, the interior ministry said. He wasn’t “on the radar” of authorities for possible radical activity, Grande-Marlaska added.
Authorities identified him as 25-year-old Yassine Kanjaa, an official with Spain’s National Police with direct knowledge of the case told The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity as dictated by police policy.
The ministry said that the suspect had been under a deportation order since June last year because of his unauthorised migrant status in Spain.
Authorities of neighbouring Gibraltar, which sits across a bay from Algeciras, said that Kanjaa had been arrested in the tiny British territory in August 2019 when he tried to “come ashore from a jet ski without the necessary documentation”.
He was deported days later. The attacks have shaken the multicultural city located near the southern tip of Spain. Witnesses said that in the second incident, the assailant jumped on the altar of the Church of Nuestra Senora de La Palma, wielding a machete.
He then attacked a sacristan, tasked with preparing Mass, inside the church and chased him into a town square before killing him.
A priest was wounded earlier at the San Isidro church, just a five-minute walk away from Nuestra Senora de La Palma.
The suspect had argued with the priest before Mass and later returned to assault him.
The Salesian religious order that the priest was affiliated with said on Thursday he was out of danger.
The order later shared on Twitter “the best news ever”, that the priest was “back with his community and in the care of his brothers”.
The Algeciras town hall identified the deceased sacristan as Diego Valencia and the wounded priest as Antonio Rodríguez.
The parish priest of Nuestra Senora de La Palma, the Reverant Juan José Marina, told Spanish media that he thinks he could have been an intended target.
He said that he believed the attacker mistook the sacristan for a priest.
“In the same way that he sought out the priest at San Isidro and no one else, the same thing happened here,” Marina said.
Candles and flowers adorned the two small churches with whitewashed walls on Thursday.
The family of the slain sacristan gathered inside Nuestra Senora de La Palma to receive the condolences of minister Grande-Marlaska and concerned residents.