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A National Police officer guards the crime scene in central Plaza Alta, Algeciras, shortly after the stabbings. E. P.
Parish sacristan dies and priest is injured in suspected jihadi-inspired attack in Algeciras

Parish sacristan dies and priest is injured in suspected jihadi-inspired attack in Algeciras

A flatmate of the arrested man who attacked in two churches said he had been acting oddly recently and saying strange things about God and the devil

MELCHOR SÁIZ-PARDO / JUAN CANO

MADRID / ALGECIRAS.

Friday, 27 January 2023, 12:28

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A local parish sacristan died and a priest was seriously injured on Wednesday evening this week when a machete-wielding attacker struck twice in two churches in the centre of Algeciras on the Bay of Gibraltar in Cadiz province. At least four people suffered less serious injuries.

A 25-year-old Moroccan man, named as Yassine Kanjaa, who has no previous criminal record, was held at the scene of the second and fatal attack and is the only person under investigation by police.

Arrested: Yassine Kanjaa
Arrested: Yassine Kanjaa sur

According to eyewitness accounts, the attacks appeared to be jihad-related, however the authorities were reluctant to confirm this hypothesis as inquiries continued this week.

Kanjaa was known within the community for erratic behaviour and had suffered from mental health issues in the past. Investigators believe he was acting entirely alone but for the moment a specialist terrorist court in Madrid has taken charge of the case.

The victim of the fatal attack was David Valencia, a sacristan who managed the parish affairs at La Palma church in the historic Plaza Alta main square of Algeciras. This was busy with local people when the attacker struck.

The injured man is Father Antonio Rodríguez, parish priest at the chapel of San Isidro, which is where the incidents started a few hundred metres away from La Palma. Rodríguez was taken to hospital in a serious condition with a neck wound.

Ninety minutes of terror

In all, the terror in Algeciras lasted about 90 minutes. According to witnesses, at 6.30pm Kanjaa entered San Isidro church unarmed and began verbally abusing people inside and on the street outside.

He lived in a flat nearby, to which he returned and came back to San Isidro at about 7.20pm armed with a machete adorned with a skull motif. Back inside that church he damaged religious images and wounded the priest in the neck when asked to leave.

Fatality in the second attack

The fatal attack at the church of La Palma was the second of the two and took place at around 7.40pm. Kanjaa, who was dressed in a traditional North African djellaba robe, reportedly entered the building shouting "Allah Akbar" (God is the greatest) when a service was ending.

He ran amok, knocking down images, crosses and candles with the machete and went up to the high altar.

The sacristan, David Valencia, approached him to ask him to leave the church. The suspect refused and insulted him and also threatened two women. When Valencia asked him to leave again the man began to chase him. He caught up with him outside in Plaza Alta where he stabbed him and beat him around the head, causing his death.

Passersby were treated for cuts after trying to stop the individual, who was eventually detained by police.

Past mental health issues

The Moroccan man has a history of mental health issues in Tangier and had been down to beprocessed for deportation from Spain since June last year when he first came to the attention of National Police in Algeciras. Sources have said that the slowness of bureaucracy to confirm his identity had meant that he was not as yet on the list for official deportation.

That would not have been the first time he was deported. Gibraltarian authorities returned him to Morocco in 2019 after he arrived illegally on a water bike with three others.

Mohamed, Kanjaa's flatmate, told SUR after this week's tragedy, "We started to notice he was a bit odd lately."

He spoke nonsense. We are all Muslim here but he said strange things about God, the Devil and that kind of thing. It was scary."

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