This from Reuters.com:
Fears rise in use, smuggling of the drug khat
Wed Jul 26, 2006 5:44pm ET
By Christine Kearney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Authorities in six states on Wednesday arrested 44 suspected members of an international drug ring that smuggled more than 25 tons of the stimulant khat worth more than $10 million from Africa to U.S. cities.
The arrests resulted from what authorities called the largest investigation of khat trafficking in U.S. history and coincided with fears the drug was growing in U.S. popularity and becoming a source of funding for Somali warlords. "We are focused in on khat distribution at its infancy in the hope to prevent that from becoming a mainstream drug trend," U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent John Gilbride told a news conference.
Khat is a shrub typically grown in Ethiopia and Kenya and commonly chewed by people throughout the Middle East. The DEA considers it highly addictive hallucinogen.
The ring used New York as distribution hub that transported khat to Portland, Maine, San Diego, Seattle and other cities, the DEA said, adding that khat sold for $400 to $600 per kilogram (2.2 pounds). Arrests were made in New York, Minnesota, Ohio, Massachusetts, California and Washington.
"Khat has been used outside its traditional immigrant populations within the United States but it has not taken off like the use of other drugs: ecstasy, cocaine and the like," Gilbride said.
In an indictment unsealed in Manhattan federal court, 44 suspected members of the organization were charged with khat importation and distribution conspiracy as well as money laundering. Thirty people were arrested in five U.S. cities and 14 remain fugitives. In a case stemming from the New York investigation, a grand jury in Seattle on Wednesday indicted 18 people on suspicion of khat importation, and 14 suspects were arrested, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Seattle said.
The drug was distributed through Somalia to New York via London hidden in suitcases, by express mail couriers, and through U.N. diplomatic pouches by one of the organization's leaders who was a U.N. mail room employee, authorities said.
Cash proceeds were laundered through bank accounts in Dubai to benefit suppliers in Europe and Africa, the indictment said.
The investigation was continuing to find the "ultimate destiny of the funds," which intelligence suggested was based in "countries in east Africa which are a hotbed for Sunni extremism and a wellspring for terrorists associated with al Qaeda," FBI assistant director Mark Mershon said. Khat, also spelled "qat" or "chat," is illegal in the United States but legal in parts of Europe, East Africa and parts of the Arabian Peninsula, according to the DEA Web site.
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