A mob has killed eight people by burning down the house of a Muslim man who intervened in the attempted lynching of a Christian student accused of blasphemy.
The incident has sparked fears of religious riots in Nigeria, where the population is evenly split between Muslims and Christians, and has been condemned by President Muhammadu Buhari as “barbaric and unacceptable”.
Local police in Zamfara State said a row erupted after a Christian student at a polytechnic was alleged to have made a blasphemous statement against Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.
Witnesses told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that a large group of his Muslim classmates beat the student in public, until a passerby, named in local reports as Tajudeen, stepped in and drove the victim to hospital.
Zamfara state police spokesman Shehu Mohammed told the AFP News Agency the mob then turned on the Muslim passerby, setting fire to his house which had eight people in it at the time.
The spokesman added: “The man who rescued the student and his wife were not among the dead.”
The incident took place on Monday, and on Tuesday state governor Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari joined hundreds of people in mourning those killed.
Amid fears of an escalation of violence, Mr Yari called an emergency security council meeting over the incident and police have imposed a nightly curfew on the community around the Abdu Gusau Polytechnic in Talata-Mafara.
“No stone will be left unturned until all those behind this act are brought to book,” Mr Yari said.
President Buhari reacted to the developing story on Twitter, writing: “I received news of the mob killings in Zamfara with great dismay. It is barbaric & unacceptable. I assure that the law will take its course.
“My prayers are with the families of the victims.
“Under my watch we will work to ensure that there is no place for violence in the name of religion, ethnicity, or in any guise whatsoever.”
Despite periodic flare-ups of sectarian violence, Muslims and Christians have lived relatively peacefully side by side in northern Nigeria since the country won independence from Britain in 1960.
The Boko Haram Islamist group has been to blame for a number of church bombings in the region in recent years, which are sometimes met with violent reprisals by Christians against Muslims accused of supporting the group.
Nigeria was named at the start of the year as the most dangerous country in the world to be a Christian, in a report by the Christian charity Open Doors, though some criticised the findings as overly simplistic.
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