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Algeciras knife attacker ‘underwent express self-radicalisation’, Spanish police say

Screengrab from a Policia Nacional handout video showing the suspect in the Algeciras attacks being taken to prison on remand on Monday.

The man arrested in Algeciras last Wednesday night in connection with two knife attacks in churches in the city was “unstable” and became “self-radicalised” in the space of a month, Spain’s Policia Nacional said on Monday.

Police confirmed details of the investigation as the man, Yassine Kanjaa, a 25-year old Moroccan national, was remanded in custody accused of murder and wounding “with terrorist motives” by an investigating magistrate in Spain’s National Court.

He is accused of attacking a sacristan named Diego Valencia in the church of Nuestra Señora de La Palma and killing him as he fled outside into the main square in the heart of the city.

Kanjaa is accused too of wounding a priest during an earlier attack in a different church in the nearby district of San Isidro, and three others during a violent spree that evening.

He was arrested near the scene where the sacristan was killed and police seized a large machete he allegedly used to carry out the attacks.

In the early morning of Thursday last week, just hours after the attacks, Spanish police searched the residence where Kanjaa lived in Algeciras and seized a number of electronic devices and documentation that are currently being analysed by investigators.

According to the Policia Nacional, Kanjaa has no previous criminal record and there is no evidence of his prior involvement in criminality.

“According to investigators this is a person with an unstable profile whose self-radicalisation took place in an accelerated manner during a short period of time,” the Policia Nacional said in a statement.

Spanish authorities had earlier urged caution in ascribing terrorist motives to the attacks but on Monday left no doubt as to their current assessment, describing Kanjaa as an “alleged jihadist”.

They claimed he had “self-radicalised in an express manner over the past month”.

The Spanish court described his actions as “a jihadist attack against clergymen of the Catholic faith, as well as against Muslims who he believed did not follow the tenets of the Koran”.

Kanjaa was questioned by investigating officers last Friday and was held in police custody until Monday morning, when he was handed into the custody of the court and remanded in prison pending trial.

The attacks caused shock and revulsion in Algeciras, where over 1000 people from across society, including many from the city’s large Muslim community, gathered in the main square to honour the victim and condemn the violent incidents.

Spain's Interior Ministry said that Kanjaa had been under a deportation order since June last year because of his unauthorised migrant status in Spain.

Last week, authorities in Gibraltar confirmed that he had been detained previously in Gibraltar for immigration offences in 2019 and deported to Morocco.

He was one of three men and a juvenile who were arrested at sea in August that year by the Royal Gibraltar Police after they entered British Gibraltar territorial waters on a jet ski from Morocco.

All four were later removed and deported directly back to Morocco within days of their court appearance.

A day after that Algeciras attacks, the Gibraltar Contingency Council met to review the developments but said there was no intelligence to suggest a specific threat to Gibraltar.

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