NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Gunmen killed two policemen guarding a church, snatched their rifles and then opened fire on the congregation with bullets and grenades on Sunday, killing at least 10 people and wounding at least 40, security officials said. Militants from Somalia were immediately suspected.
Police commander Philip Ndolo said the bloodiest attack was on the African Inland Church in Garissa, a town some 195 kilometers (120 miles) west of the Somali border.
Attackers threw two grenades inside the church, only one of which exploded, Ndolo said. But as the congregation stampeded out of the church, gunmen opened fire, doing significantly more damage. Ten people died and about 37 were wounded at the church, Ndolo said.
Another security official, though, said that two attackers walked up to the two policemen guarding the church, shot them at point-blank range and took their rifles. The gunmen then opened fire on the church and threw the grenades. The official spoke only on condition he wasn't identified because he is not allowed to speak to media.
The police were guarding the church because of the perilous security situation near the border with Somalia and because Somalia's Islamist militants have made Christian churches a common target.
At a second church in Garissa, another grenade was thrown, wounding three people, Ndolo said.
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 nearly 500,000 Somali refugees. On Friday armed attackers kidnapped four international workers with the Norwegian Refugee Council and are believed to have taken them over the border into Somalia.
Areas of northern and eastern Kenya along the border with Somalia have suffered a series of gunfire and grenade attacks over the last year. Kenya sent troops into Somalia last October to hunt al-Shabab fighters. The militants, who are allied with al-Qaida, have threatened repeatedly to carry out revenge attacks for Kenya's push into Somalia. Sunday's attacks appear to be part of that trend.
Associated Press reporter Tom Odula contributed to this report.