Terror investigation after Church worker killed in 'stabbing spree' in Spain

The assailant was described by witnesses as wearing a traditional robe from the Maghreb region of North Africa and holding a machete
The assailant was described by witnesses as wearing a traditional robe from the Maghreb region of North Africa and holding a machete

A church worker was killed and a priest badly injured during a stabbing spree in ''at least two'' places of Christian worship in Algeciras, southern Spain, which police are investigating as a terror attack.

Diego Valencia, sacristan at the church of Nuestra Señora de La Palma, was killed, while  Antonio Rodríguez, priest at San Isidro church, was last night in hospital, seriously injured but stable, the town’s mayor said in a post on Facebook.

Police said last night that a suspect was in custody. Three other people were also injured in the attacks, local media reported.

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The attacks began at shortly after 7pm when a man wearing a traditional north African djellaba entered San Isidro church and began striking religious objects with a large machete.

Mr Rodríguez is reported to have ordered the attacker to leave the building, and was stabbed in the neck outside the church.

In the nearby church of Nuestra Señora de La Palma, the same assailant is reported to have entered shouting and throwing crosses and candles to the ground with his machete, jumping on the altar in front of churchgoers who were attending Mass.

Mr Valencia approached the man to demand that he leave the church and was reportedly attacked with machete blows to the midriff and head, which proved fatal.

Police stand next to San Isidro church in Algeciras.
Police stand next to San Isidro church in Algeciras.

According to reports, the assailant also entered the Europa chapel, which is next door to the church of Nuestra Señora de La Palma.

Police said last night that they had arrested the suspected attacker after assaults on “at least two churches”.

According to police sources cited by the newspaper El País, the assailant is believed to be “of Moroccan origin”, although he was not carrying identity documents.

The Mayor, José Ignacio Landaluce, has declared today an official day of mourning in honour of Mr Valencia.

Flags will fly at half mast, and there will be a gathering at midday to “reject” the attacks.

“Algeciras has always been a city where harmony and tolerance reign, despite the fact that situations like this show an image that does not correspond to reality,” he said.

The president of the Andalusia region, Juan Manuel Moreno, also condemned the attacks.

“Terrible and heart-breaking. A sacristan has been murdered and at least one other priest has been injured in an attack that took place in Algeciras,” Mr Moreno said in a post on Twitter.

He called for caution on drawing conclusions while the facts of the attack are being investigated. “Intolerance will never have a place in our society,” Mr Moreno said.

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said: “I want to convey my most sincere condolences to the relatives of the sacristan who died in the terrible attack in Algeciras. I wish those injured a speedy recovery.”

Late last night, police searched an address close to the churches of San Isidrio and Nuestra Señora de La Palma.

Cardinal Juan José Omella, president of the Spanish episcopal conference, an official assembly of bishops, said he was shocked by the attacks.

“I pray for the victims of this atrocity and their relatives,” he wrote in on Twitter.

Algeciras is a port town in the province of Cadiz near Gibraltar, with a population of about 120,000.