One dead, one injured after a machete attack in churches in Spain on Wednesday
The city of Algeciras in Spain was thrown into mourning Thursday a day after a machete-wielding Moroccan man stormed two churches, killing a sexton and seriously wounding a priest in bloodshed that left residents reeling in the multicultural southern Spanish port.
The violence took place on Wednesday evening as worshippers met to celebrate the Eucharist at two nearby churches in the city with the 25-year-old alleged assailant Yassine Kanjaa arrested at the scene.
As investigators pressed ahead with a terror probe, police staged an early-morning raid on his home, with the interior ministry saying he had been served with a deportation order in June but had no prior convictions and had not been under surveillance.
In 2019, he had been deported from Gibraltar on grounds of illegal entry, a government statement from the tiny British enclave said.
‘The individual who was arrested last night by the Spanish authorities… had also been arrested by the RGP (Royal Gibraltar Police) in August 2019 when, along with others, he came ashore from a jet-ski without the necessary documentation,’ it said.
He was deported on August 8 along with three other immigrants, it said.
At midday, many hundreds of mourners gathered in stunned silence outside Nuestra Senora de La Palma church where the sexton Diego Valencia was killed, many of them breaking down in tears, an AFP correspondent said.
‘We have lived here for years and we have always been very welcomed,’ said Nawal Montaguikie, a Moroccan woman in her 40s who remembered Valencia as ‘a gentle person’.
‘What did he do to deserve this?’ she said, her voice trembling with emotion.
‘We condemn this man and what he’s done. I hope he rots in jail.’
Also there was Juan Jose Marina, La Palma’s parish priest, who had not been present when the attack occurred that claimed his sexton’s life.
‘If I am alive, it’s because Diego died instead of me. I was supposed to be there,’ he said brokenly, his eyes swollen from weeping. At the time, he was conducting a service elsewhere.
Many in the crowd were visibly moved, among them family members, police officers, town council employees and several veiled women, who couldn’t hold back their tears.
Local media said the suspect lived near the churches which are just 300 metres apart in the town of around 120,000 residents.
Although Spain’s top criminal court opened a terror investigation, Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said it was not yet possible to say whether the incident was of a ‘terrorist nature’ but confirmed there were ‘no third parties involved’.
The suspect, seen in police footage with a beard and wearing a black, white and grey hoodie, entered the church of San Isidro armed with a machete just after 7:00 pm (1800 GMT) and ‘attacked the priest, leaving him seriously wounded,’ the interior ministry said.
‘Subsequently, he entered the church of Nuestra Senora de La Palma in which, after causing damage, he attacked the sexton (who) managed to get out of the church, but was caught by the attacker outside and sustained mortal injuries.’
Witnesses told local media he was shouting and started hurling icons, crosses and candles to the floor.
The priest, 74-year-old Antonio Rodriguez, sustained injuries to the neck while celebrating the Eucharist at San Isidro church, his parish said, describing his condition as ‘serious but stable’.
Outside the church, mourners laid flowers and lit candles in memory of a man who was a well-known figure within the local Catholic community.