Suspected Al-Shabaab returnees have now joined criminal gangs that are behind series of robberies targeting businesses in Coast, Nation has learnt.
The returnees, according to intelligence reports, are from Kwale and Mombasa counties where their hideouts are based.
The revelation comes as it emerged that one of three suspected gangsters who were killed this week by police after robbing two businessmen of Sh660, 000 was a suspected returnee.
The suspect who has only been identified as Mwidani was killed alongside two others, among them Simon Kinyua, a notorious criminal who was on the police watch list. Mwidani has been buried in Likoni.
The third gangster is yet to be identified. They were in a gang of four that was accosted by police and found with two AK-47 rifles and 59 rounds of ammunition.
The fourth suspect Mr Juma Karisa was arrested and taken to Mariakani court where police were allowed to hold him for 14 days.
Mr Karisa, 28, has been taken for interrogation by Anti-Terror Police Unit (ATPU) officers based at the Coast.
The gang is suspected to be linked to another which killed two police officers during a robbery two weeks ago in Diani, Kwale County.
“The killings of the two officers was kept a secret as it was known that the returnees were the ones who were involved,” said a source from Kwale.
Coast region security committee says returnees have been infiltrating criminal groups.
The committee’s chairman John Elungata says that radicalisation has been going on with the “normal” criminal groups being the new drivers of terror-related activities.
Last month, two wanted terror suspects Mr Salim Mohamed Rashid and Mr Juma Mwengo Athman fled from their hideout in Ng’ombeni, Mombasa following a raid from ATPU officers.
The duo are suspected to have been trained in Syria.
Police recovered an assortment of radicalisation materials which included Islamic books, several items for assembling improvised explosive devices and a tear gas canister.
Electrical wires, machetes, military uniforms and boots were also found in the house.
It has also emerged that the Coast region has no single rehabilitation centre for Al-Shabaab returnees despite being a radicalisation and terror recruitment hotspot.
But the government has established a new ATPU centre to coordinate operations in war against terrorism at the Coast.
The government received support from the United Kingdom to put up a Sh60 million state-of-the-art facility whose function is to dismantle terror cells in the region.
Director of Criminal Investigations (DCI) George Kinoti last week acknowledged in Mombasa that there are still active sleeper cells.
“We have brought new efforts closer at the Coast because we are all aware that terror cells are active here. We will be able to disrupt, prevent and deter any terrorism related risk before they happen because of the information that we will be receiving from here,” said Mr Kinoti.
The DCI boss said the centre which will be opened by end of this year would allow ATPU receive intelligence real-time.
British High Commissioner to Kenya Nic Hailey said terrorism remains a threat and requires international cooperation and the sharing of intelligence in order to combat it.
“We have seen tragically in the recent months and years that terrorism menaces us all. It has struck us in the UK, Kenya and around the world. It is our ambition to support Kenya and see the ATPU has a new capability here at the Coast to combat this threat and also deal with extremism,” said Mr Hailey.
A number of attacks in the country have been traced to the Coast.
Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Noordin Haji said he was optimistic that the new collaborations would help the security agents bring forward watertight evidence that would allow them prosecute terrorists.
“You have seen that just we have managed to convict the British terror suspect Jermaine Grant after a long trial. We are committed to ensure that we fight terrorism for the safety of our people,” said Mr Haji.
Grant was convicted of being in possession of bomb making materials that were set to be used in launching a terror attack in Kenya.
In its ruling, the court said that the prosecution had proved beyond reasonable doubt that the chemicals the suspect was found with were to be used in making an explosive for purposes of committing a terrorist act.