Spanish police have raided the home of a Moroccan man held over the machete attacks at two Catholic churches that left a church officer dead and a priest injured in the southern city of Algeciras.
Police are still looking into the motive of the assault, but a National Court judge is investigating it as a possible act of terrorism.
The suspect is believed to have acted alone.
Officers searched the suspect’s home to “determine the nature, terrorist or otherwise”, of the alleged crime, Spanish interior minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said.
Authorities identified him as 25-year-old Yassine Kanjaa, an official with Spain’s National Police with direct knowledge of the case told The Associated Press.
The ministry said the suspect had been under a deportation order since June last year because of his unauthorised migrant status in Spain.
Authorities of neighbouring Gibraltar, which sits across a bay from Algeciras, said that Kanjaa had been arrested in the tiny British territory in August 2019 when he tried to “come ashore from a jet-ski without the necessary documentation”.
He was deported days later.
The attacks have shaken the multicultural city located near the southern tip of Spain.
Witnesses said that in the second incident, the assailant jumped on the altar of the Church of Nuestra Senora de La Palma, wielding a machete.
He then attacked a sacristan – tasked with preparing Mass – inside the church and chased him into a town square before killing him.
The Salesian religious order that the priest was affiliated with said on Thursday he was out of danger.
The order later shared on Twitter “the best news ever”: that the priest was “back with his community and in the care of his brothers”.
The Algeciras town hall identified the deceased sacristan as Diego Valencia and the wounded priest as Antonio Rodriguez.
The parish priest of Nuestra Senora de La Palma, the Rev Juan Jose Marina, told Spanish media that he thinks he could have been an intended target.
He said that he believed the attacker mistook the sacristan for a priest.
“In the same way that he sought out the priest at San Isidro and no-one else, the same thing happened here,” Mr Marina said.
“If I had been here, I would be dead.”
Candles and flowers adorned the two small churches with whitewashed walls on Thursday.
The family of the killed sacristan gathered inside Nuestra Senora de La Palma to receive the condolences of minister Mr Grande-Marlaska and concerned residents.
Flags were flown at half-mast in Algeciras, while a minute’s silence and a vigil was observed by the community, including a significant contingent from the city’s Moroccan population.
“This hurts us a lot,” Nahual Mostanaquin said.
“All Moroccans, those here, in Morocco or France, no-one wants these things to happen. It is a thing of madness,” she added.
“(The victim) was a good man who did no harm to anybody. He hurt no-one and everyone loved him.”
Aziz Handi said: “We hope that it will never happen again, because we live in peace here in Algeciras.”
The Islamic Commission of Spain, which represents Muslims in the country, condemned the “abominable, murderous and heartless act” in “a sacred space for our Catholic brothers in Algeciras”.
The violent acts at the churches may inflame social tensions stoked in an election year by the far-right Vox party, which is vying to win more seats in local and national governments, as well as to form governing coalitions with the centre-right Popular Party.
Vox’s leader, Santiago Abascal, linked the attack to his party’s platform of cracking down on unauthorised immigration.
Vox, the third-largest party in Spain’s parliament, also presents itself as the protector of Spain’s Catholic heritage at a time when active church membership is waning.
“He had an order of expulsion,” Mr Abascal tweeted.
Popular Party president Alberto Nunez Feijoo, the leader of Spain’s main opposition party, said that “Islamic terrorism is a problem for European society”.
“It has been centuries since a Catholic or Christian has killed in the name of his religion or beliefs,” Mr Nunez Feijoo said.
“And there are other countries who have citizens who do.”
The comments by the right-wing leaders were criticised by politicians from Spain’s governing left-wing coalition.
The secretary-general of the Spanish Episcopal Conference, an organisation of Spain’s Catholic bishops, appealed for unity.
“We cannot demonise any group,” Cesar Garcia said, according to Spanish news agency EFE.
“We cannot let ourselves be easily provoked, we cannot add fuel on the fire, we cannot lapse into demagogy and we cannot identify terrorism with any religion.”