Nairobi: Gunmen killed 17 people and wounded dozens in gun and grenade attacks on two churches on Sunday in the Kenyan town of Garissa near the border with Somalia, officials said.

Wearing balaclavas, the attackers killed two armed police -- posted outside churches following previous attacks -- before bursting inside to target worshippers as they held prayer services.

Witnesses said bodies lay scattered on the floor inside the blood spattered buildings -- a Roman Catholic church and an Africa Inland Church.

"It is a terrible scene, you can see bodies lying in the churches," said regional police chief Leo Nyongesa.

At least 40 people were rushed to hospital, several in a critical condition, the Kenyan Red Cross said.

The Red Cross, which put the death toll at 17, flew the three most critically injured victims by air ambulance to the capital Nairobi.

Three children were reported to be among the dead. "It is a horrible sight to see," said Hussein Abdi, a resident of Garissa, some 140 kilometres (85 miles) from the border with war-torn Somalia.

Kenya has suffered a spate of gun, grenade and bomb attacks since sending troops into southern Somalia last October to target Shebab rebels fighting to overthrow the weak UN-backed government in the Horn of Africa state.

Later, the pro-Shebab Twitter site Al-Kataib boasted of a "successful operation in Garissa" but did not specifically claim responsibility. Nairobi has blamed previous assaults on the al-Qaeda linked Shebab.


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