EIGHTEEN INDICTED IN CONNECTION WITH INTERNATIONAL DRUG TRAFFICKING RING IN “OPERATION SOMALIA EXPRESS”
Imported and Distributed Highly Addictive “Khat” into East African Immigrant Communities
The Seattle segment of an international drug trafficking ring was dismantled this morning in early morning raids and searches of seventeen different locations in King County. An indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Seattle against 18 people was unsealed today, charging them with Conspiracy to Import and Distribute Khat. Khat is a plant harvested in Eastern Africa and chewed for its stimulant effect. The arrests this morning follow a five month investigation that began after Drug Enforcement Agents in New York City linked suspects in Seattle to an international investigation. This morning federal authorities in New York announced the culmination of their 18 month investigation charging 44 defendants with importing more than 25 tons of khat into the U.S.
In the Seattle area, DEA agents and local law enforcement identified and frequently intercepted deliveries of khat shipped via Federal Express or other delivery services. Agents identified members of the distribution network, their stash houses, and observed traffickers picking up large quantities of khat in broad daylight. Seventeen of those locations were searched and 14 people were arrested this morning. Authorities seized more than 1,000 lbs. of khat over the course of the investigation.
Khat is the common name for Catha Edulis, a plant grown and harvested in Eastern Africa. Khat is chewed for the alkaloids in its leaves which contains two stimulants: cathinone and cathine.
Cathinone dissipates as the khat leaves dry, so khat is shipped moist, wrapped in banana leaves or frozen. Because the khat needs to be delivered quickly, the organization was using couriers carrying khat in their luggage, as well as shipping companies to bring the drug from Europe to the United States.
A wiretap investigation revealed that MAHAMOUD OMAR JAMA, 36, of Kent as the cell leader in Seattle responsible for direction of shipments of khat from individuals in several European countries to specific addresses in the United States. During a month-long wiretap of JAMA’s cellular phone, more than 1000 calls were intercepted concerning the importation and distribution of khat. Shipments were arriving almost daily to a variety of Seattle addresses. During just three days in May 2006, DEA Seattle seized shipments totaling 558 lbs. of khat.
“These defendants were looking to make easy money at the expense of their fellow immigrants,” said U.S. Attorney John McKay. “We will not let their greed shatter the hopes and dreams of other hard working immigrant families who have fled the chaos of their homeland.”
During the 18 month investigation centered in New York, authorities seized five tons of khat worth more than $2 million. According to the New York indictment between December, 2004, and July, 2006, those indicted smuggled 25 tons of khat with a street value of more than $25 million.
According to the New York indictment, users of khat chew the leaves and young shoots of the plant. The primary effects of chewing khat are euphoria and stimulation, and side effects include anorexia, heart disease, hypertension, cancer of the mouth, disorientation, gastric disorders, hallucination, hyperactivity, hypertension, impotence, insomnia, outbursts of irrational violence, and, in exceptional cases, toxic psychosis.
The grand jury returned indictments against:
MAHAMOUD OMAR JAMA, 36, Kent
ABDIWELI SHANLE MAHAMED, 42, SeaTac
ABDISELAM MOHAMED GELLE, 50, Seattle
ABDIFATAH HUSSIEN, 23, Tukwila
ALI M. ISMAIL, 42, Seattle
IBRAHIM SHIRE WEYNE, 37, Seattle
ABDULAAHI AHMED, 34, Seattle
ABDIRASHID ABDI, 31, Seattle
GEDI OMAR WARSAME, 38, Seattle
MOHAMED ISSAC, Seattle
ABDIFAATH MUUSSE, 31, Seattle
LIBAN SAID HAGI, 30, SeaTac
KHALID ABDI ALI, 38, Seattle
JAMA MOHAMED ABSIYA, 29, Seattle
ALI MIRREH DUALEH, 43, Kent
ABDIGAFAR HASSAN, 42, Seattle
BASHIR DAHIR BUDUL, 40, Seattle
ABUUBAKAR ALI, 42, Seattle
All of those arrested in Seattle today will make their initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Seattle at 2:30 this afternoon. An indictment contains allegations that have not yet been proven at trial beyond a reasonable doubt. If convicted the defendants face up to 20 years in prison.
The case was investigated by DEA Seattle Field Division, Tukwila Police Department and the King County Sheriff’s Office – SeaTac Police Department. Assisting in the raids this morning were U.S Marshal’s Service, Marysville Police Department, FBI, Seattle Police Department, ATF, Valley Narcotics Enforcement Task Force, and the Eastside Narcotics Task Force. This was an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation, providing supplemental federal funding to the federal and state agencies involved.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Susan M. Roe.
For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.