Police: Counterterror unit holds Spain church attack suspect

Spain's national police agency says a counterterrorism intelligence unit is questioning a suspect accused of killing a Catholic church officer with a machete and wounding four more people, including a priest

January 27, 2023, 9:34 AM

MADRID -- A counterterrorism intelligence unit on Friday questioned a suspect accused of killing a Catholic church officer with a machete and wounding four more people, including a priest, in the southern city of Algeciras, Spain's national police agency said.

The Spanish National Police asked for two more days to interrogate the 25-year-old Moroccan suspect in Madrid before he has to face a judge, as is permitted under terrorism legislation. The extension request was granted until Monday evening, Spain’s National Court confirmed.

The suspect, identified by authorities as Yassine Kanjaa, was transferred to the capital and handed over to the General Commissariat of Information, an intelligence unit within the Spanish police which oversees domestic terrorism cases.

Kanjaa is accused of killing sacristan Diego Valencia after he prepared Wednesday night Mass at the Church of Nuestra Senora de La Palma. He is further accused of wounding a priest and three others at another Algeciras church. Valencia’s family and local politicians attended his funeral in the multicultural southern city Friday.

Spain's National Court said Kanjaa was accused of terrorism after “assaulting several people with a large machete, causing the death of one of them and injuries to four others,” according to a court statement.

A high-ranking police official with direct knowledge of the case confirmed to The Associated Press that an initial investigation showed evidence of the suspect's “psychological instability” and “recent radicalization.” Spanish media first reported the preliminary findings.

“For now, we don’t have evidence of links with jihadist groups. For now, we don’t have evidence of personal links with other people with Islamist character,” the official, who was not authorized to discuss details of the probe, said. “But the investigation has just begun.”

Meanwhile in a separate case Friday, Spanish police said that in a joint operation with the FBI they had arrested a Spanish national of Moroccan origin for suspected terrorism offenses in the northeastern city of Girona.

The suspect was “in an advanced process of jihadi radicalization,” a police statement said, and showed support for the Islamic State group via online profiles.

He also used the internet to “obtain manuals to train himself in the use of weapons and explosives,” the statement added. The day he was arrested, he had searched online how to carry out stabbings and attacks with bladed weapons, it added.

Algeciras, where Wednesday's church attacks took place, is a cosmopolitan port city and the first point of arrival for many boats and ferries from North Africa, putting it at the center of Spanish debates on irregular migration.

Spain has a general election this year. Right-wing parties have seized upon a deportation order for Kanjaa issued in June 2022 that was never executed.

Left-leaning government officials and media outlets have criticized the head of the Popular Party, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, for saying Thursday that it “has been centuries since a Catholic or Christian has killed in name of his religion or beliefs,” before adding: “And there are other countries who have citizens who do.”

More than 880,000 Moroccans live in Spain, according to government statistics, representing the largest single nationality among resident foreigners.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has prioritized relations with Morocco in recent months. Spain and Morocco have collaborated closely on security issues, and Sánchez plans to travel to Rabat next week to meet Morocco's king.


Parra reported from Rome.

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