BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — A machete-wielding man killed a sexton and injured a priest at two Catholic churches in the city of Algeciras on Wednesday before being arrested, Spain’s Interior Ministry said. Authorities are investigating the attacks as a possible act of terrorism.
The suspect is being held by the Spanish National Police. The ministry did not identify him.
Algeciras is near the southern tip of Spain, across a bay from Gibraltar. It is home to a major port with ferry connections to North Africa.
The attack began around 7 p.m., when a gunman entered the church of Maria Auxiliadora y San Isidro and assaulted a priest, who was seriously injured, the ministry said.
The assailant then went to a second church, Nuestra Señora de La Palma, a five-minute walk away, where he attacked the sexton. The sexton, whose job it is to look after the church, fled outside to a public square, where the assailant inflicted life-threatening injuries on him, the ministry said.
Algeciras City Hall said the sexton was named Diego Valencia and identified the injured priest as Antonio Rodríguez. City hall said he was hospitalized and in stable condition.
Local media reported that at least three other people were injured.
Spain’s National Court said a judge had opened an investigation into a possible act of terrorism.
Police are investigating the incident, the Home Office said, to determine the “nature of the attack”. He did not provide any details about the attacker’s motive.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez joined in the outpouring of support.
“I want to express my deepest condolences to the families of the sexton killed in the terrible attack in Algeciras,” Sánchez wrote on Twitter. “I wish the injured a speedy recovery.”
The secretary general of the Spanish Episcopal Conference, Francisco García, wrote on Twitter: “I received the news of the incident in Algeciras with great pain.” The conference is an organization of the Catholic bishops of Spain, based in Rome.
“These are sad moments of suffering, we are united by the pain of the families of the victims and for the diocese of Cádiz,” García added.
The town hall has decreed a day of mourning where the flags will fly at half mast.
“We are all stunned by these acts, which have filled us with pain,” Mayor José Landaluce said. “Algeciras has always been a city of harmony and tolerance, despite incidents like this creating an image that does not correspond to reality.