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Sherif Kedir Sirage

Two Utah resident refugees accused of importing more than 400 pounds of an exotic stimulant from Ethiopia made an appearance in federal court Friday.

Patrick Bahati, 23, and Sherif Kadir Sirage, 42, both of Salt Lake City, appeared in federal court after being arrested last Wednesday on charges of importation of a controlled substance.

Federal prosecutors moved to have both men held in federal custody pending trial, arguing that the importation of more than 400 pounds of khat constitutes a danger to the community.

Khat is a flowering evergreen shrub native to East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The plant is typically chewed like tobacco and creates a feeling of euphoria. The plant is banned in much of Europe, East Africa, Arabian Peninsula and the United States. It is considered a schedule I to a schedule IV controlled substance in the United States, depending on its freshness.

According to charging documents, both men had two large shipments of khat brought in from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, via air shipment. A shipping company worker noticed a strong spice smell coming from the packages and noted that their contents did not match shipping documents, which listed contents as "false banana flour, basil, pepper, hop, grounded pea, lipia and thyme."

Tests conducted on the leaves determined it was khat. Both Bahati and Sirage were questioned by authorities when they showed up to pick up the packages.

In court Friday, U.S. District Magistrate Judge Samuel Alba said Bahati will remain in federal custody due to an immigration hold that has been placed on him. Bahati has a history of arrests in state court.

An attorney for Sirage said his client has a friend who is willing to let him stay at his home if the court is willing to release him. Alba noted that a pretrial services report could not confirm much of the information Sirage provided, including phone numbers of associates.

Alba said he would give Sirage time to give verifiable contacts to the court. He will remain in custody at least until a detention hearing on Wednesday. Both men have been ordered to appear in federal court on Jan. 4 to enter pleas to the charges.

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