More than 200 Muslim youths were among those who protected Christians from attacks in the Nigerian city of Kaduna over Christmas, a local church official has confirmed.
According to Pastor Yohanna Buru of the Christ Evangelical Church in Kaduna, the interfaith initiative was the first of its kind in the city. He said that Muslims volunteered to protect his church in response to a series of suicide bombings and attacks on Christian places of worship by Islamist militant group Boko Haram.
"I really appreciate their love and care," he said of the young Muslims, adding that it showed the possibility of lasting peace and harmony between those of different faiths.
Buru also expressed a hope that the initiative would be taken up in other areas of Nigeria.
Situated in the centre of the country, Kaduna State has been the site of increasing inter-religious tension in recent months. On Saturday, gunmen attacked and killed 10 residents who were having a post-Christmas celebration in Tattaura Village, Kaduna State Police Commissioner, Umar Shehu, has confirmed.
Local pastor Mike Maikarfi told journalists that the community was holding a festive celebration during which locals performed dances.
Resident Mr Anche told Nigerian news website Yohaig that the people of Tattaura always celebrate Christmas on the 27th December. He confirmed that 10 had been killed while "many others" were injured and had been taken to hospital.
Mr Anche reportedly described the attack as guerrilla style, and said the militants were able to escape. It is not yet known who is responsible for the attack, though Boko Haram have been active in the region.
The Nigerian government has faced criticism for its failure to curb the Islamist group's violence. President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in Muslim-majority Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states in May 2013 and has authorised an increased military presence to combat extremism. However, Boko Haram – whose name translates as 'Western education is forbidden' – continues to wreak devastation across northern Nigeria. Estimates suggest that the group is responsible for over 5,000 deaths between July 2009 and June 2014.
The group's leadership have declared intent to cleanse the country of Christians, eradicate Nigerian democracy and replace it with an Islamic state guided by Sharia law, though some Muslim communities believed to have betrayed Islam have also been targeted.