Kaduna, Nigeria, Nov. 13--(AP) A lone soldier opened fire on Muslim worshippers in this northern city, killing seven people, state officials said Tuesday. The shooting Sunday followed a confrontation between the soldier and a Muslim cleric, who was preaching to a crowd of worshippers near the city's army barracks, the state government said in a statement.

The soldier was attempting to enforce a state ban on open-air religious gatherings, the Abuja-based Daily Trust and other newspapers reported Tuesday. It was not immediately clear whether the gathering contravened the ban, imposed to reduce religious tensions following the introduction of Shariah, or Islamic law, in the state. The cleric reportedly ignored the soldier--whom news reports said was drunk at the time--and continued preaching. Enraged, the soldier opened fire, killing seven people and injuring others. He was immediately arrested, state authorities said.

Nigeria--Africa's most populous nation--is riven with ethnic and religious divides that regularly flare into violence. Thecountry is loosely divided into a mainly Christian south and an overwhelmingly Muslim north. When the introduction of Shariah was first proposed in Kaduna state last year, it sparked rioting that left more than 2,000 people dead, by some estimates. Similar clashes occurred in some of the dozen other states that have adopted Islamic law since late 1999.

When Kaduna introduced Shariah in a modified form earlier this month, it took steps to reduce tensions between the state's Muslims and Christians--including the ban on public religious gatherings.

Defense Minister Theophilus Danjuma declared a state of alert late Monday amid persisting tensions in several Nigerian cities, officials said.

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