MUSLIMS protected churches as gangs armed with hammers and paving stones threatened to destroy them during the failed Turkey military coup.

At least 265 people were killed and 1,500 injured in the attempted coup which saw a faction of Turkish troops attempt to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

The coup failed after crowds of government supporters answered President Erdogan’s call to take to the streets and dozens of rebels abandoned their tanks.

As carnage swept the country churches were also targeted and Muslims rallied round to protect their Christian neighbours.

In Trabzon, on the Black Sea coast, a gang of about ten people armed with hammers and paving stones attacked the Santa Maria Church, until they were driven away by local Muslims.

The attackers smashed the church’s windows with paving stones and attempted to break in using hammers.

The group of Muslims protected the church and called the priest during the unrest.

It’s not the first time the church has been targeted. In February 2006 Catholic priest Fr Andrea Santoro was murdered on the site.

In Malatya, unidentified people tried to break the windows of Malatya Protestant Church smashing the glass panels in the doorway.

The site is where three Christian workers were tortured and murdered in April 2007. Tim Stone, the pastor of Malatya Protestant Church, said he thought the attack on his church was just someone with a grudge against the church, taking advantage of the general unrest.

It’s unclear if the attackers were military rebels or government supporters.

Religious leaders, including the Director of Religious Affairs Mehmet Görmez, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, the Chief Rabbi Rav Izak Haleva, the acting Armenian Patriarch Aram Atesyan, Assyrian Orthodox Metropolitan Yusuf Çetin and Assyrian Catholic acting Patriarch Yusuf Sag condemned the coup.

The rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Turkey has put Christians under increasing pressure and danger.

Protestant churches have been repeatedly threatened and attacked during President Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party’s rule.

Many feared Erdogan would create an Islamic republic when he first came to power.

A spokesman for Christian advocacy charity Open Doors said: “For Turkey’s Christians, these latest attacks on churches have been a painful reminder of their vulnerability, particularly during periods of unrest.”

In the week since the failed plot to oust Erdogan thousands of of people have been rounded up, dismissed or suspended by the Turkish government as President Erdogan carries out a purge of his opponents.

Credit: KATIE MANSFIELD, Express.Co.Uk/News

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