Washington - The United States strongly condemned on Sunday "heinous" attacks on churches in Kenya that left 17 people dead and dozens wounded in a town near the Somali border.
Assailants wearing balaclavas burst into two churches in Garissa, targeting worshippers with firearms and grenades. Witnesses said bodies lay scattered on the floor inside the two churches.
"The United States strongly condemns the recent attacks on innocent civilians attending church services in Kenya," White House spokesperson Jay Carney said in a statement, offering condolences to the victims' families.
"The perpetrators of these attacks have shown no respect for human life and dignity, and must be brought to justice for these heinous acts," he said.
"At a time of transition, peace and stability are essential to Kenya's progress. We support those who recognise Kenya's ethnic and religious diversity as one of the country's greatest strengths," Carney noted.
"We stand with the Kenyan people at this difficult time."
Kenya has suffered a spate of gun, grenade and bomb attacks since sending troops into southern Somalia last October to target Shabaab rebels fighting to overthrow the weak UN-backed government in the Horn of Africa state.
Canada also condemned the "vicious and cowardly" church attacks, with Foreign Minister John Baird saying he was "deeply saddened" to hear about the deaths and pledging his country's "solidarity with the Kenyan people".
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, whose disputed re-election five years ago sparked bloody ethnic violence, has vowed to ensure an orderly handover of power when he steps down next year.