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'A Thing of Madness': Deadly Church Attack Being Investigated as Possible Act of Terrorism

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Spanish police on Thursday raided the home of a Moroccan man believed to be responsible for machete attacks at two Catholic churches that left a church officer dead and a priest injured in the southern city of Algeciras.

Police are still looking into the motive of the assault, but a National Court judge is investigating it as a possible act of terrorism. The suspect is believed to have acted alone.

Officers searched the as-yet unnamed suspect’s home to “determine the nature, terrorist or otherwise,” of the alleged crime, Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said.

The suspect is a Moroccan citizen with no prior criminal record “either in Spain or any other country,” the interior ministry said. He is 25 years old, 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 suspect had been under a deportation order since June 2022 due to his unauthorized migrant status in Spain.

The attacks on Wednesday have shaken the multicultural city, located near the southern tip of Spain across a bay from Gibraltar. Witnesses said that in the second incident, the assailant jumped on the altar of the Church of Nuestra Señora 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.

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A priest was wounded earlier at the San Isidro church, just a five-minute walk away from Nuestra Señora de La Palma. The Salesian religious order said on Thursday that he was out of danger and would be able to leave the hospital where he was being treated.

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

The parish priest for Nuestra Señora de La Palma, the Rev. Juan José Marina, told Spanish media he thinks he could have been an intended target of the assailant.

“In the same way that he sought out the priest at San Isidro and no one else, the same thing happened here,” Marina said. “If I had been here, I would be dead.”

A fellow sacristan who served with Valencia at the church, Manolo González, said the attacker climbed on the altar and Valencia came out “and asked to know what was going on.”

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

“This hurts us a lot,” Nahual Mostanaquin said. “All Moroccans, those here, in Morocco or France, no one wants these things to happen. It is a thing of madness,” she added. “[The victim] was a good man who did no harm to anybody. He hurt no one, and everyone loved him.”

Aziz Handi added: “We hope that it will never happen again because we live in peace here in Algeciras.”

The Islamic Commission of Spain, which represents Muslims in the country, condemned the “abominable, murderous and heartless act” in “a sacred space for our Catholic brothers in Algeciras.”

The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.

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