Spain’s interior ministry said a man wielding a machete killed a sexton and wounded a priest in two Catholic churches in the city of Algeciras on Wednesday before his arrest. Authorities are investigating the attacks as a possible terrorist act.
The suspect is in the custody of the Spanish National Police. The ministry did not identify him.
Algeciras is located near the southern tip of Spain, resting across a bay from Gibraltar. It is home to an important port with ferry connections to North Africa.
The ministry said the attack began around 7 p.m. when an armed man entered the Maria Auxiliadora y San Isidro church and assaulted a priest, who was seriously injured.
The attacker then went to a second church, Nuestra Señora de la Palma, a five-minute walk away, where he attacked the sexton. The ministry said the sexton, whose job it is to look after the church, fled outside a public square, where the attacker inflicted fatal injuries.
The municipality of Algeciras said the sexton was named Diego Valencia and identified the wounded priest as Antonio Rodriguez. The municipality said he was taken to hospital and is in stable condition.
Local media reported that at least three other people were wounded.
Spain’s National Court said a judge had opened an investigation into a possible terrorist act.
The Interior Ministry said police were investigating the incident to determine the “nature of the attack”. No details were provided about the attacker’s motives.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez joined the outpouring of support.
“I want to express my deepest condolences to the families of the sextons who were killed in the horrific attack in Algeciras,” Sanchez wrote on Twitter. “I wish a speedy recovery to the injured.”
“It was with great pain that I received the news of the incident in Algeciras,” the general secretary of the Episcopal Conference of Spain, Francisco García, wrote on Twitter. The Conference is the organization of the Catholic Bishops of Spain with its headquarters in Rome.
“These are sad moments of suffering, we are united by the pain of the families of the victims and the Diocese of Cadiz,” added García.
The city council declared a day of mourning when flags flew at half the staff.
“We are all stunned by these actions that have filled us with pain,” said Mayor Jose Landalos. Algeciras has always been a city where harmony and tolerance prevail, despite incidents like this that create an image that does not correspond to reality.