Spain. Police raid home of suspect in church machete attacks

ALGECIRAS, Spain (AP) — Spanish police on Thursday raided the home of a young Moroccan detained for the machete attacks on two Catholic churches the night before that left one dead and a priest injured in the southern city of Algeciras. ‘Algeciras.

A police investigation led by a National Court judge considers Wednesday’s violence a possible act of terrorism. The suspect allegedly acted alone.

«The investigation is continuing under the logical premise that it could be a case of terrorism, but we are in the initial phase and all possibilities are open,» said Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska, after police completed their search for the suspect. residence.

The suspect is a Moroccan citizen with no criminal record «neither in Spain nor in any other country», the Interior Ministry said. He was not «on the radar» of authorities for possible radical activity, Grande-Marlaska added.

Authorities identified him as 25-year-old Yassine Kanjaa, a Spanish National Police official with direct knowledge of the case told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, in accordance with police policy.

The ministry said the suspect had been under a deportation order since June last year due to his unauthorized migrant status in Spain. Authorities in neighboring Gibraltar, which sits across a bay from Algeciras, said Kanjaa was arrested in the tiny British territory in August 2019 while trying to «disembark from a jet- skiing without the necessary documents». He was expelled a few days later.

The attacks have rocked the multicultural city near the southern tip of Spain. Witnesses said that in the second incident, the attacker jumped onto the altar of the Nuestra Señora de La Palma church, brandishing a machete. He then attacked a sexton – in charge of preparing for mass – inside the church and chased him through a town square before killing him.

A priest was injured earlier at the Church of San Isidro, just a five-minute walk from Nuestra Señora de La Palma. The suspect had argued with the priest before mass and then returned to assault him. The Salesian religious order to which the priest was affiliated said on Thursday he was out of danger. order later shared on Twitter «the best news ever»: that the priest was «back in his community and in the care of his brothers».

The deceased priest has been identified as Diego Valencia and the injured priest as Antonio Rodriguez.

The parish priest of Nuestra Señora de La Palma, the Reverend Juan José Marina, told Spanish media he believed he could have been an intended target. He said he believed the attacker mistook the sexton for a priest.

«The same way he looked for the priest in San Isidro and no one else, the same thing happened here,» Marina said. “If I had been here, I would have died.

Another sacristan who served with Valencia at the church, Manolo González, said the striker went up to the altar and Valencia came out ‘and demanded to know what was going on’.

Candles and flowers adorned the two small churches with whitewashed walls on Thursday. The family of the slain sexton gathered inside Nuestra Señora de La Palma to receive condolences from Minister Grande-Marlaska and the residents concerned. Flags were lowered to half-mast in Algeciras, while a minute’s silence and a vigil were observed by the community, including a large contingent of the city’s Moroccan population.

«It hurts us a lot,» said Nahual Mostanaquin. «All Moroccans, those here, in Morocco or in France, nobody wants these things to happen. It’s madness,» she added. «(The victim) was a good man who didn’t hurt anyone. He didn’t hurt anyone and everyone loved him.

Aziz Handi added: «We hope this will not happen again, because we live in peace here in Algeciras.»

Algeciras is a cosmopolitan port city and the first point of arrival for many boats and ferries from North Africa, placing it at the center of Spanish debates on irregular migration..

Spain’s Islamic Commission, which represents the country’s Muslims, condemned the «abominable, murderous and heartless act» in «a sacred space for our Catholic brothers in Algeciras».

Acts of violence in churches could fuel social tensions stoked in an election year by the far-right Vox party, which is fighting to win more seats in local and national governments, as well as to form coalitions government with the centre-right People’s Party. .

Vox leader Santiago Abascal linked the attack to his party’s crackdown on unauthorized immigration. Vox, the third-largest party in Spain’s parliament, also casts itself as the protector of Spain’s Catholic heritage at a time when active church membership is waning.

«He had an eviction order,» Abascal tweeted. «How many more like him could there be in Spain?»

People’s Party President Alberto Núñez Feijóo, leader of Spain’s main opposition party, said that “Islamic terrorism is a problem for European society.

«It’s been centuries since a Catholic or a Christian has killed in the name of their religion or beliefs,» said Núñez Feijóo. «And there are other countries that have citizens who have them.»

The right-wing leaders’ comments were criticized by politicians from Spain’s ruling left-wing coalition.

The secretary general of the Spanish Episcopal Conference, an organization of Catholic bishops in Spain, has called for unity.

«We cannot demonize any group,» César García said, according to Spanish news agency EFE. «We cannot be easily provoked, we cannot add fuel to the fire, we cannot fall into demagogy and we cannot identify terrorism with any religion.»


Jennifer O’Mahony reported from Madrid and Joseph Wilson from Barcelona.

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