Spain church attack suspect was 'flagged for deportation'

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  • A man accused of an attack on two Spanish churches was set to be deported from the country. 
  • The suspect was identified as a 25-year-olf Moroccan man. 
  • A church caretaker was killed in the attack, while a priest was wounded. 

The man who is alleged to have stormed two Spanish churches with a machete, killing one person and seriously wounding a priest, was slated for deportation but had no prior convictions, officials said on Thursday.

The bloodshed, which took place on Wednesday evening in the southern port city of Algeciras, shocked Spain and left locals reeling.

The alleged attacker was arrested at the scene and police raided his home in the early hours of Thursday as prosecutors pressed ahead with a terror probe.

The suspect, who was identified by a police source as a 25-year-old Moroccan man, had "no prior criminal or terrorism convictions in Spain or allied countries" and was not under surveillance, an interior ministry spokesman said.

"A deportation procedure was opened in June" but "because it was an administrative procedure... the implementation was not immediate," he said.

Local media reports said he lived close to the two churches which are just 300m apart.

Spain's flag, flowers and candles displayed on the
Spain opened a terror probe on January 25 after a man wielding a bladed weapon stormed a church in southern Spain killing one and wounding several others.

Although the Audiencia Nacional, Spain's top criminal court, opened a terror investigation, the government has so far not qualified the nature of the attack.

Speaking in Stockholm where he was meeting his European counterparts, Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said it was not yet possible to say whether the incident was of a "terrorist nature".

But he confirmed there were "no third parties involved" in remarks transmitted to reporters.

He would travel to Algeciras in the coming days "to follow the investigation on the ground", his office said.

Chased the victim into the street

The suspect, seen in police footage with a beard and wearing a black, white and grey hoodie, entered the church of San Isidro in Algeciras just after 19:00 "where, armed with a machete, he attacked the priest, leaving him seriously wounded," the interior ministry said.

Grande-Marlaska said:

Subsequently, he entered the church of Nuestra Senora de La Palma in which, after causing damages, he attacked the verger [caretaker].

The verger, Diego Valencia, "managed to get out of the church, but was caught by the attacker outside and sustained mortal injuries," it said.

The two churches are several hundred metres apart and located in an area very close to the port in the town of around 120 000 residents.

The emergency services said the priest had sustained injuries to the neck.

His parish identified him as 74-year-old Antonio Rodriguez and said he had been celebrating the Eucharist at San Isidro church when he was attacked, describing his condition as "serious but stable".

Attacker shouted, threw icons

A police source told AFP the assailant was wearing a long robe at the time and had "shouted something".

Eyewitnesses told local media he ran shouting into Nuestra Senora de La Palma and began throwing icons, crosses and candles to the floor.

The mayor of Algeciras has declared a day of mourning with residents invited to gather outside the second church where the verger died for a rally against the bloodshed that was due to start at midday.

Algeciras is the main port serving ferries and other vessels travelling between Spain and Morocco and its residents were left reeling from the carnage.

READ | Spain pensioner held over Ukraine embassy, PM letter bombs

For Juan Jose Marina, parish priest of Nuestra Senora de La Palma, the idea of such an attack was unimaginable "because our ties with the Islamic world in Algeciras are good and we've never had any sort of problem," he told public radio

"It just defies all logic," agreed Dris Mohamed Amar, spokesman for the local Muslim community, who was speaking on the same radio programme, saying he hoped "it was an isolated case by a demented lunatic and not something premeditated".

In remarks to reporters, Cesar Garcia Magan, who heads the Episcopal Conference grouping of Spain's leading bishops, described the attack as "reprehensible, unjustifiable and abhorrent" but warned against "the danger of demonising certain groups".

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez sent his "deepest condolences to the family of the verger who died in this terrible attack," also wishing a speedy recovery to the injured, while opposition leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo of the right-wing Popular Party said he was "appalled" by the incident.

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