Detroit — Federal agents investigating female genital mutilation have identified a third woman suspected of helping perform a controversial procedure on two 7-year-old girls and searched her home, sources told The Detroit News.
The search Tuesday in Farmington Hills and the woman’s identity deepen ties between a local Muslim community and a mutilation conspiracy case drawing international attention. The case also is raising awareness about a procedure practiced by the Dawoodi Bohra, a small sect of Shia Muslims from India.
It is unclear what federal agents seized during the search at a 2,600-square-foot colonial owned by a 48-year-old friend of Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, the first person charged nationwide with committing female genital mutilation.
The woman, who has not been charged, is suspected of being in the examination room Feb. 3 when girls allegedly underwent a procedure at a Livonia clinic. The woman also allegedly exchanged text messages with others charged in the case, the sources said.
The search came as agents continue to hunt for victims and others involved in an alleged mutilation conspiracy.
The woman’s lawyer declined comment Friday. The News is not identifying the woman by name because she has not been charged with a crime amid an ongoing investigation.
The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office also declined comment.
Prosecutors have claimed three women were in the room Feb. 3 when the 7-year-old girls from Minnesota allegedly were mutilated at the Burhani Medical Clinic in Livonia.
A grand jury has indicted two women: Nagarwala is accused of cutting the girls and Farida Attar is accused of helping arrange the procedure and being in the examination room.
Defense lawyers say the procedure performed on the girls was not female genital mutilation. The procedures were benign, legal and religious, they’ve said.
Nagarwala’s lawyer said the doctor merely removed mucous membrane from the girls’ genitalia, placed the material on gauze pads and gave it to their families for burial.
Prosecutors said Farida Attar held the girls’ hands during the procedures. Or more specifically, held them down, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward said during a court hearing Wednesday.
The clinic where the alleged mutilations happened is owned by Attar’s husband, Dr. Fakhruddin Attar. He also has been indicted.
All three are U.S. citizens.
The trio is accused of committing female genital mutilation, trying to cover up the crime and conspiring to cut girls as part of a procedure practiced by the Dawoodi Bohra.
Locally, most members of the sect belong to the Anjuman-e-Najmi mosque in Farmington Hills.
The woman whose home was raided Tuesday and her family belong to the mosque, sources told The News.
Some members of the community who have spoken against the practice said female genital mutilation is performed to suppress female sexuality, reduce sexual pleasure and curb promiscuity, according to the criminal complaint.
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.
The Attars and Nagarwala are being held without bond pending a June 27 trial in federal court.
Fakhruddin Attar, 52, and Nagarwala, 44, face up to life in prison if convicted of conspiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.
Farida Attar, 50, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of conspiring to obstruct the investigation.