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Kenya Police Seize Explosives in New Raids at Mosques

Kenyan police officers stand guard outside the Masjid Swafaa mosque in the district of Kisauni in Kenya's coastal town of Mombasa following a raid, Nov. 19, 2014.

Kenyan police carried out new raids at mosques in Mombasa on Wednesday, finding explosives and arresting more than 100 people on suspicion they were undergoing militant training.

Raids on the Swafaa and Minaa mosques found grenades, ammunition and petrol bombs. Four mosques have been searched since Monday in the port city, security officers said.

Local police said 109 people were arrested on Wednesday, adding to more than 250 arrested on Monday.

Islamist militant networks

Kenya is looking to break up Islamist militant networks it blames for a series of attacks in the capital, Nairobi, as well as along its Indian Ocean coastline. Police say many of the recruits are inspired by al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-linked Somali group.

“These operations have started and will go on until all places of worship especially mosques in Mombasa are set free from terrorist and criminal elements,” Robert Kitur, Mombasa County police commander, told Reuters.

“We have been gathering intelligence for a long period, and it was time to act,” Kitur said.

"There was obviously a lot more than just prayers and sermons taking place,” local police chief Richard Ngatia, speaking with the French news agency AFP, said of the targeted mosques.

Police raided two mosques on Monday, seizing weapons and literature that they said was evidence of militant activity. The following day, a group of youths with machetes and knives killed three people in what officials called revenge attacks.

Ngatia said investigators on Wednesday found three machetes at Mombasa's Mina mosque and a grenade, while two 10-liter petrol bombs and a bomb detonator were uncovered at Swafaa mosque.

“The mosques have been radicalizing youth, training and encouraging them in jihadism,” Ngatia said, adding police had found literature about jihadism in the mosques.

Hundreds arrested

Police have arrested 376 people so far during the raids, which started on Sunday, but 91 were subsequently released for lack of evidence. Prosecutors said 158 would be charged with being members of al-Shabab.

Police said they were still considering what to do with the other detainees.

Hussein Khalid, from the Mombasa-based civil society group HAKI Africa, speaking to AFP, warned on Wednesday that "forceful and violent strategies only act to heighten tension in what already is a volatile situation."

While accepting that grenades had been found, he also said police had a "reputation" among some Kenyans of planting evidence - claims the security forces have repeatedly denied.

Khalid also said police refused to take off their shoes when entering the mosques, which angered many people.

Attacks and bombings

Kenya has suffered a series of attacks since invading Somalia in 2011 to attack al-Shabab and the raids have raised tensions in Mombasa.

Violence in the region has also prompted Western nations to issue travel warnings, advising against all but essential travel to the region, which relies heavily on tourism.

Several Islamic preachers have been shot dead in Mombasa in recent years in alleged extra-judicial killings by security forces and power struggles between rival Muslim factions.

Some material for this report came from Reuters and AFP.