Man kills official in machete attack on two churches in Spain

Prosecutors are investigating the attacks at two Catholic churches in Algeciras as a possible ‘act of terrorism’.

Police officers stand guard at the scene of a stabbing incident at a church in Algeciras
Police have not commented on the possible motives or political and religious affiliation of the attacker in Algeciras, Spain [Forta/Reuters]

A machete-wielding man has killed a church official and injured a priest at two Catholic churches in the Spanish city of Algeciras before being arrested, Spain’s interior ministry said.

Prosecutors opened a “terrorism” investigation into the attacks, which took place in the port city of Algeciras in Spain’s southern Andalusia region on Wednesday.

“Just after 7pm [18:00 GMT] this evening, a man entered the church of San Isidro in Algeciras, where, armed with a machete, he attacked the priest, leaving him seriously wounded,” an interior ministry statement said.

“Subsequently, he entered the church of Nuestra Senora de La Palma in which, after causing damages, he attacked the verger. The verger managed to get out of the church but was caught by the attacker outside and sustained mortal injuries,” it said, indicating he had died on the spot.

“Moments later, [the assailant] was disarmed and arrested and is currently in police custody.”

The two churches are several hundred metres apart and located in an area very close to the port.

Police initially said several people had been wounded but later clarified it was only the priest, with the emergency services confirming he had sustained injuries “to the neck”.

The mayor of Algeciras identified the verger who died as Diego Valencia and the injured priest as Antonio Rodriguez.

In a Twitter post, the local congregation said Rodriguez, 74, had been celebrating the Eucharist at San Isidro church when he was attacked, describing his condition as “serious but stable”.

A police source told AFP news agency the assailant was wearing a long robe and had “shouted something” as he carried out the attack.

Witnesses at Nuestra Senora de La Palma told local media that a man ran into the building at about 7:30pm just as they were finishing the Eucharist service. They said he was shouting and had started to throw icons, crosses and candles to the floor.

‘Terrorism’ investigation

Prosecutors opened an investigation – with an angle of “terrorism” – which is being led by a judge from the Audiencia Nacional, Spain’s top criminal court which handles terror-related cases.

Police did not identify the suspect but released a video in which he is seen from behind wearing a black, white and grey hoodie and black trousers and being led away, handcuffed, by two police officers.

Algeciras town hall said it would hold an official day of mourning on Thursday when flags would be lowered to half-mast. A demonstration would take place at midday to express outrage at the bloodshed.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Twitter wished a speedy recovery to the injured and expressed sorrow for the family of the victim. “I send my deepest condolences to the families of the verger who die in this terrible attack,” he said.

Opposition leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo of the right-wing Popular Party said he was “appalled” by the incident.

Police have not commented on the possible motives or political and religious affiliations of the attacker.

However, the incident was denounced by the local Muslim community, which said it condemned “the brutal and vicious attack in Algeciras” and deplored the verger’s death.

“These criminal acts, which some want to link to Islam or Muslims, tarnish the coexistence that society in Algeciras has historically enjoyed,” it said in a posting on the Facebook account of Ishbilia mosque in Seville, the regional capital.

“These reprehensible acts are far from our religion and the Muslim community.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies