Spanish police raid home of suspect in church machete attacks

Spanish police on Thursday raided the home of a young Moroccan man held over the machete attacks at two Catholic churches the previous 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 accused 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 anonymous official with Spain’s National Police with direct knowledge of the case said.

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 jetski 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 staff member tasked with preparing Mass, inside the church and chased him into a town square before killing him. A priest was also injured.

The Algeciras town hall identified the deceased sacristan as Diego Valencia and the wounded priest as Antonio Rodríguez.

A colleague of the deceased man said he had been struck after confronting the assailant.

"Diego got hit with the machete, and then apparently ran away and was chased to the Plaza Alta where he fell over, and that's when he was killed," said Manolo Gonzalez, a sexton at one of the churches.