By Junno Arocho Esteves
(OSV News) — A Moroccan national is under arrest after a horrific attack in several Catholic churches in the southern Spanish city of Algeciras, killing one person.
According to Spanish news agency EFE, the attacker — identified as Yasin Kanza — first entered the Church of Santa Maria Auxiliadora around 8 p.m. Jan. 25 and attacked 74-year-old Salesian Father Antonio Rodríguez with a machete as he celebrated Mass.
Although seriously wounded in the neck, Father Rodriguez underwent surgery and is in stable condition.
Kanza then walked over to the Church of Nuestra Señora de La Palma where he attacked Diego Valencia, a sacristan at the parish. Although the victim fled, Kanza gave chase and mortally wounded Valencia.
He then attempted to enter the Chapel of Nuestra Señora de Europa, located nearby the second church. However, it was closed. Local police officers captured Kamza and handed him over to the Spanish National Police.
Authorities say that although they believe Kanza acted alone, Spain’s National Court, which handles terrorism-related crimes, is involved in the investigation.
Speaking to Spanish daily El Mundo, Father Juan José Marina, parish priest of Nuestra Señora de La Palma where Valencia died, said he was not there at the time, as he was celebrating confirmations in a neighboring parish.
“In the middle of the ceremony that I was officiating, they entered the church and said that a jihadist attack had been committed in La Palma and then I immediately went there,” he told El Mundo.
Upon arriving in his parish, he found Valencia already deceased at the doors of the church. “My sacristan was dead in the middle of the Plaza Alta square with his head open.”
According to the priest, when the attacker entered the church, the concelebrant of the Mass had already finished officiating it, while Valencia was collecting the utensils for the ceremony.
Faithful were still praying in the church. “The attacker got on the altar table and began to throw the things that were on top of it. The sacristan began to rebuke him and when he realized that he was carrying a machete he started to run, he was able to escape, but (the attacker) caught him in the street and killed him, killed him, killed him,” the priest repeated incredulously to El Mundo, still in shock after what happened.
The attack drew strong reactions from religious authorities in the country. Shortly after the attack, the Spanish bishops’ conference expressed its “closeness and affection” to the victims and their families.
“We also express our strongest condemnation of all forms of violence, which can have no place in the society in which we live,” the statement said. “As believers, we ask the God of mercy and peace to fill the hearts of the victims and the wounded with hope, to accompany the church and society in the search for peace and to convert the hearts of violent people.”
Cardinal Juan José Omella of Barcelona, president of the Spanish bishops’ conference, said in a tweet posted Jan. 25 he was “shocked” and offered prayers for the victims and their families. The following day, Cardinal Carlos Osoro Sierra of Madrid said he was “appalled by the attack” and prayed “for an end to violence, which destroys life and brotherhood.”
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez expressed his condolences to the victims of the “terrible attack” on his Twitter account.
According to Spanish daily El Mundo, the perpetrator’s legal situation in Spain was irregular, and he was pending deportation, although legally he was not required to stay under arrest prior to the attack. The police had him under surveillance, according to sources of the investigation, but since he lacked a criminal record they could only monitor him. According to some of El Mundo’s sources, along with a machete he was holding a Quran.
The brutal attack drew strong condemnation from the Union of Islamic Communities of Campo de Gibraltar. Calling it a “vile and cowardly terrorist attack,” the union expressed its “deep sorrow and great sadness” over the “terrible criminal act” committed with “total disregard for human life and the servants of God.”
“These types of terrorist acts constitute criminal actions that are absolutely contrary to the Quran and the Sunnah (the sayings and teachings of the prophet Mohammed), and to all the commandments of God and his prophets,” the union said.