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14 area residents arrested in big khat-smuggling bust
Seattle Times staff reporter
Fourteen Seattle-area residents were arrested today during early morning raids aimed at breaking up an international smuggling operation that allegedly brought into the U.S. up to 25 tons of khat, a highly-addictive drug cultivated in eastern Africa.
Today's raids on 17 King County locations were part of a larger federal investigation begun 18 months ago by the New York office of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
DEA agents five months ago linked Seattle suspects to their international inquiry, which allegedly involved the use of Federal Express and other courier services to deliver shipments of frozen khat, also spelled qat, and fresh khat leaves wrapped in banana leaves.
The drugs were sent by plane from Kenya and Ethiopia to western Europe, according to investigators. Shipments from several European locations arrived daily at stash houses throughout King County.
Khat (pronounced "cot") is a stimulant most often chewed liked tobacco. Because it loses potency as the leaves dry, traffickers look for ways to deliver the drugs quickly.
An indictment returned by a federal grand jury was unsealed today in Seattle. It charges 18 people with conspiracy to import and distribute khat.
Another indictment in New York said the scheme involved 44 people in seven states and the District of Columbia.
Law enforcement authorities have scheduled a 3 p.m. news conference in Seattle today to provide further details on the investigation.
David Bowermaster: 206-464-2724 or email@example.com
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