NAIROBI // Gunmen killed at least 17 people and wounded 40 in gun and grenade attacks on two churches yesterday, Kenyan security officials said.
Police commander Philip Ndolo said the bloodiest attack was on the African Inland Church in Garissa, a town about 195 kilometres west of the Somali border.
Attackers threw two grenades inside the church, only one of which exploded, Mr Ndolo said.
But as the congregation stampeded out of the church, gunmen opened fire, doing significantly more damage. At least 17 people died and about 37 were wounded at the church, he said. "We were deep in prayers preparing to give our offerings," said David Mwange, a churchgoer.
"We first had a loud bang from outside which we mistook to be coming from the rooftops. We then had gun shots which made us to lie down. Within no time we had gunshots all over. Everybody was shouting and wailing in pain."
Meanwhile, at another Catholic church in Garissa, an attacker threw a grenade, wounding three people.
The Vatican yesterday denounced the attacks. "The bloody attacks in Kenya in the town of Garissa against two churches, including a Catholic cathedral, during Sunday prayers, are a horrible and very worrying fact," spokesman Federico Lombardi said. He deplored that "among terrorist groups, attacks on Christians gathered on Sunday in their place of worship has become a method, believed to be particularly efficient, of spreading hatred and fear".
"The cowardice of the violence against helpless people gathered peacefully for prayer is unspeakable," he added.
Garissa is one of two major Kenyan towns near the border with Somalia. It lies just to the west of the Dadaab refugee camp, which houses about 500,000 Somali refugees.
Kenya has suffered a spate of bomb attacks since sending troops into southern Somalia last October to target Al Shabab rebels fighting to overthrow the government in the country.
* Associated Press and Agence France-Presse