The attack occurred during morning prayers at the church in the northeastern town of Garissa, which is home to a large number of Somalis and where 18 people were killed in similar grenade blasts in July.
“We have one fatality,” said regional police chief Philip Tuimur after a policeman died of his wounds in the attack on the Utawala church at a police camp in Garissa, which lies about 140 kilometers (90 miles) from the Somali border. “We have mobilized our officers to track down the attackers,” Tuimur added, without giving further details.
Kenya has been rocked by a wave of grenade attacks on cities including the capital Nairobi and the key port of Mombasa since the country sent troops into its troubled neighbor in October last year to fight the Al-Qaeda linked Shebab.
Fourteen people were also wounded in yesterday’s attack, which police said was carried out by two armed men. Most of the victims were policemen.
“We are attending victims mostly suffering from shrapnel wounds and burns, and we are evacuating to Nairobi three of the victims due to the nature of their injuries,” Dr. Mohamed Sheikh, medical director at the Garissa Hospital said.
The grenade “ripped through the roof during prayer session,” said a police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity, while witnesses cited by police said the attackers also fired gunshots.
In early July, at least 18 people were killed in attacks on two churches in Garissa, while in January five people were killed in a grenade blast at a bar in the town.
A child was also killed in a suspected grenade attack on a church in Nairobi in September, triggering reprisal attacks against the Somali community there.
The attacks and cross-border raids in the northeastern region have been blamed on the Shebab militants or their Kenyan supporters, who vowed revenge after Nairobi’s troops invaded last year.
The Shebab still control large parts of southern Somalia, despite African Union troops, allied Somali forces and Ethiopian soldiers wresting control of several key towns from the insurgents.
Human Rights Watch last month warned Kenyan security forces to end what it described as abuses in the hunt for suspected backers of Shebab militants, accusing them of beating and shooting at civilians as well as looting and destroying their property.
“Kenyan police officers are apparently responding to attacks on their forces with abuses against entire villages,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at HRW.
“Kenyan police need to investigate attacks on their forces carefully, and arrest and prosecute the people responsible instead of attacking everyone in sight.” It said Kenyan security forces have repeatedly accused residents of either harboring Shebab gunmen or participating in attacks, and have carried out abusive operations against them.
“Senior police officials should immediately follow up on the many complaints of police abuse,” Lefkow said.
In May, the rights group also charged that Kenyan security forces were abusing ethnic Somalis in the same region, accusing them of rape, arbitrary detention of civilians, looting and extortion.