Detroit – As many as 100 girls may have had their genitalia mutilated during a 12-year conspiracy involving three Metro Detroit doctors, a federal prosecutor said Wednesday.
That’s a conservative figure, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward said during a failed bid to keep two doctors jailed pending trial.
There is evidence eight girls were mutilated, the prosecutor said, but so far the nation’s first female genital mutilation case involves only two 7-year-old girls from Minnesota.
The government’s allegation is the latest development in a high-profile criminal case that is raising awareness about a procedure practiced by some members of the Dawoodi Bohra, a small sect of Shia Muslims.
Dr. Jumana Nagarwala of Northville is accused of mutilating the genitalia of two girls Feb. 3 at a Livonia clinic owned by Dr. Fakhruddin Attar.
The Farmington Hills man has been indicted along with his wife, Dr. Farida Attar, who is accused of helping arrange the procedure and being in the examination room while it was performed.
Fakhruddin Attar’s lawyer criticized the government for alleging 100 girls have been victimized.
“I think the government has overstated so many aspects of this case and this is another example,” attorney Mary Chartier told reporters.
The government made the estimate based on Fakhruddin Attar allegedly telling investigators that Nagarwala treated girls at his clinic for “problems with their genitals” five or six times a year.
Prosecutors allege the mutilation conspiracy started 12 years ago.
Chartier spoke after U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman freed the Attars pending an Oct. 10 trial.
The couple were placed on house arrest, and the judge barred them from using computers and accessing the Internet. They also cannot have any contact with alleged victims or witnesses, Friedman said.
For now, the couple cannot live with their 9-year-old daughter because state officials are trying to terminate their parental rights.
The judge’s decision comes less than two months after the couple were arrested and accused of accused of committing female genital mutilation, trying to cover up the crime and conspiring with Nagarwala to cut girls as part of a procedure practiced by their religious and cultural community, the Dawoodi Bohra.
Locally, most members of the sect belong to the Anjuman-e-Najmi mosque in Farmington Hills.
Nagarwala remains jailed pending trial.
Federal prosecutors allege the two 7-year-old girls who were brought to Metro Detroit on Feb. 3 suffered illegal genital mutilation at Fakhruddin Attar’s clinic in Livonia.
One girl told the FBI that Nagarwala “pinched” her on the “place (where) she goes pee,’ ” and a subsequent medical examinations showed the girl’s genitals did not appear normal and a section had been altered or removed, according to a court filing. A doctor also observed scar tissue and small healing lacerations.
The second girl identified Nagarwala as the doctor she visited in Detroit and a subsequent medical exam showed the girl’s genitalia had a small incision and a small tear, according to a court filing.
Defense lawyers say the procedure performed on the girls was not female genital mutilation and that the government is overreaching.
Nagarwala’s lawyer has 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.
The girls were brought to the clinic by mothers who wanted them to undergo a religious rite of passage, defense lawyers said.
The procedures were benign and legal, defense lawyers have said.
“Their pants and underwear were removed ... and Dr. Nagarwala approached with a sharp tool to cut their genitals,” Woodward said Wednesday.
Last month, a federal magistrate judge ordered the Attars held without bond, calling them a danger to the community and flight risks because they have ties in India.
In a bid to overturn the magistrate’s decision, the couple’s lawyers said they are not flight risks and have strong ties to Metro Detroit.
Defense lawyers also have attacked the government’s evidence.
Chartier said FBI surveillance footage outside Fakhruddin Attar’s clinic is such poor quality that identifying the doctor – or anyone – is impossible.
“That could be me, Dr. Attar, or the pope himself,” Chartier said.
The footage shows the Attars, Nagarwala and the victims at the clinic Feb. 3, the government claims.
The camera appears to have been attached to a utility pole across the street from Fakhruddin Attar’s clinic in Livonia.
The lawyer countered the government’s claim that Fakhruddin Attar was at the clinic by producing receipts showing he was at a bookstore miles away.
“He was at a Barnes & Noble bookstore during the time he was supposedly at the clinic, and Dr. Attar was with his daughter,” Chartier wrote in a court filing.
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.