Detroit — A federal grand jury issued the country’s first indictment for female genital mutilation Wednesday against two doctors and a spouse for allegedly cutting 7-year-old girls and conspiring to cover up the crime.
The indictment adds new charges to a case that is providing insight into a small, insular Muslim community in Metro Detroit and an illegal procedure performed on young girls.
Until Wednesday, Northville Dr. Jumana Nagarwala was the only person charged with performing female genital mutilation. The indictment accuses Farmington Hills Dr. Fakhruddin Attar and his wife, Farida Attar, of committing female genital mutilation.
The indictment alleges the three were involved in a widening conspiracy targeting minor victims since 2005 and claims they tried to cover up the crimes by lying to federal agents and deleting evidence.
“Female genital mutilation has serious implications for the health and well-being of girls and women,” acting U.S. Attorney Daniel Lemisch said in a statement. “This brutal practice is conducted on girls for one reason: to control them as women.”
The indictment was filed about one hour before the Attars appeared at 1 p.m. in federal court for a bond hearing.
Fakhruddin Attar, 52, and his 50-year-old wife — both dressed in jail uniforms and wearing handcuffs and ankle chains — agreed to postpone the hearing and will remain jailed at least until May 3.
Lawyers for the Farmington Hills couple declined comment Wednesday.
“As the first federal indictment in the U.S., these charges will hopefully deal a critical blow to stamping out this inhumane practice in the United States and around the world,” Steve Francis, acting special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, said in a statement.
Nagarwala is accused of performing the procedure at Fakhruddin Attar’s clinic in Livonia and his wife is accused of helping Nagarwala perform the mutilations, according to court records. Farida Attar manages the clinic.
The two doctors and Attar’s wife are members of the Dawoodi Bohra religious community based locally out of a Farmington Hills mosque.
The Dawoodi Bohra is a small Muslim sect from India that was linked to a mutilation scandal in Australia two years ago.
Sect members locally belong to the Anjuman-e-Najmi mosque on Orchard Lake Road. It’s the only Dawoodi Bohra mosque in Michigan.
The Dawoodi Bohras hail mostly from western India and were traditionally comprised of businessmen, entrepreneurs and professionals. There are about 1 million followers worldwide.
Two years ago, three Dawoodi Bohras faced trial in Australia in a case that raised awareness of female genital mutilation. The case ended in prison sentences for the three, including a Dawoodi Bohra community leader.
The indictment alleges Nagarwala and the Attars conspired to mutilate girls’ genitalia since 2005 and told others to lie about the procedures.
The mutilations happened at Attar’s medical facility, the Burhani Medical Clinic, on Farmington Road, north of Five Mile, the government alleges.
The indictment follows a months-long investigation by the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations that relied on phone records, text messages, interviews with the victims and relatives and surveillance footage obtained from Attar’s clinic.
The indictment alleges a link between the Dawoodi Bohra community in Minnesota and the sect in Metro Detroit.
On Jan. 20, Fakhruddin Attar phoned a member of the Dawoodi Bohra community in Minnesota.
Days later, Nagarwala sent a text message to one victim’s parents that read “Feb. 3rd at 6:45 p.m.?” according to the indictment.
That is the day federal agents allege the mutilations happened at the Livonia clinic.
Phone records also showed Fakhruddin Attar made a nearly 19-minute phone call to a member of the Dawoodi Bohra community in Minnesota on Jan. 24, the government claims.
On Feb. 3, Fakhruddin Attar opened his clinic so Nagarwala could perform the mutilations on the girls, according to the indictment.
The clinic’s surveillance footage shows both girls arriving Feb. 3 after business hours, according to court records.
The footage also shows Nagarwala and Farida Attar arriving at the clinic.
The first mutilation was over within 17 minutes, federal agents alleged in a court filing.
The second mutilation lasted less than 20 minutes.
Some members of the Dawoodi Bohra community who have spoken against the procedure said genital mutilation is performed to suppress female sexuality, reduce sexual pleasure and curb promiscuity, according to court records.
The procedure has been illegal in the U.S. since 1996 and there are no health benefits for girls and women, according to the World Health Organization.
Seven days after the alleged mutilations, an FBI child forensic interviewer talked to one of the girls. The girl said she was brought to Detroit with the second victim for a “special girls’ trip,” according to the FBI.
After arriving at a Farmington Hills hotel, the girls were taken to a doctor because “their tummies hurt.”
“While at the doctor’s office, a procedure ‘to get the germs out,’” was performed on the first girl, according to court records.
The girl was shown a photo of Nagarwala and said she was the doctor who performed the procedure, according to the FBI.
The girl told the FBI that Nagarwala “pinched” her on the “place (where) she goes pee,’” the government alleges.
“(The girl) said that she was told not to talk about the procedure,” FBI Special Agent Kevin Swanson wrote in a court filing.
A subsequent medical examination showed that the girl’s genitals did not appear normal and a section had been altered or removed, according to the court filing.
“Finally, the doctor observed some scar tissue and small healing lacerations,” the agent wrote.
The second girl said she underwent a procedure and identified Nagarwala as the doctor she visited in Detroit, according to the complaint.
“She said that she ‘got a shot,’ and that it hurt really badly and she screamed,” the FBI agent wrote. “Her parents told her that the procedure is a secret and that she is not supposed to talk about it.
“(The girl) said that after the procedure, she could barely walk, and that she felt pain all the way down to her ankle,” the agent continued.
A subsequent medical exam showed the girl’s genitalia had a small incision and a small tear.
The doctors also were indicted on a charge of conspiracy to transport minors with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. The charge is punishable by up to life in federal prison.
The case emerged publicly April 10 when federal agents raided Attar’s clinic.
In the ensuing days, prosecutors allege Nagarwala and the Attars conspired to obstruct the federal investigation.
The doctors agreed to make false statements to investigators about whether mutilations happened within the Dawoodi Bohra community, according to the indictment.
“Jumana Nagarwala, and Fakhruddin Attar took steps to delete evidence of communications between co-conspirators,” the indictment alleges.
The doctors and Farida Attar also told others to lie to investigators, according to the indictment.
The doctors and Farida Attar face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of conspiring to block the investigation.
The mutilation and conspiracy charges are five-year felonies.
Nagarwala has denied performing female genital mutilation.
Defense lawyer Shannon Smith has said Nagarwala merely performed a religious procedure that involved removing mucous membrane from the girls’ genitalia and giving it to relatives for burial.
Fakhruddin Attar, meanwhile, was not aware of any crimes committed at his clinic, defense lawyer Mary Chartier previously said.
Leaders of the Farmington Hills mosque released a statement Friday saying they are offering assistance to investigators.
“Any violation of U.S. law is counter to instructions to our community members,” the statement said. “It does not reflect the everyday lives of the Dawoodi Bohras in America.
Nagarwala, 44, meanwhile, originally was charged in federal court April 12. The Henry Ford Health System emergency room physician from Northville is being held without bond on charges that could send her to federal prison for life.
Attar was placed on leave from the medical staff at St. Mary Mercy Livonia hospital while Nagarwala has been placed on administrative leave from Henry Ford Health System.
Mutilation ban introduced
Michigan would join at least 24 other states prohibiting female genital mutilation under proposed state legislation announced Wednesday. Two state Senate bills would make the controversial procedure a 15-year felony. Federal laws banned the procedure in 1996.