Detroit – A fourth person charged in an alleged conspiracy to mutilate the genitalia of prepubescent girls was released on bond Wednesday and barred from having contact with members of a mosque embroiled in the case.
Tahera Shafiq, 48, of Farmington Hills was released on home confinement after being charged with conspiracy to commit female genital mutilation and aiding and abetting.
She is accused of arriving at a Livonia clinic before two girls allegedly were mutilated and leaving afterward, according to federal prosecutors.
The complaint comes more than one month after The Detroit News reported federal agents had raided the woman’s home as part of an ongoing investigation. The News did not name Shafiq at the time because she had not been charged with a crime.
The charge is the latest development in a case prosecutors say involves as many as 100 girls who may have had their genitalia mutilated during a 12-year conspiracy.
“She did nothing wrong or illegal here,” Shafiq’s lawyer Victoria Burton-Harris told reporters. “She is doing surprisingly well. She has watched her friends go through this for a number of months and is doing as well as you could expect.”
The high-profile criminal case – the nation’s first federal case since female genital mutilation was outlawed in 1996 – is raising awareness about a procedure practiced by some members of the Dawoodi Bohra, a small sect of Shia Muslims.
The four people charged are all members of the Dawoodi Bohra community, which is based locally out of Anjuman-e-Najmi mosque in Farmington Hills.
Shafiq, a naturalized U.S. citizen who works in medical billing and is the mother of two adult children, appeared briefly in federal court wearing handcuffs, ankle chains and a long, Robin egg blue rida, the traditional Dawoodi Bohra dress that covered Shafiq from head to toe and was decorated with large white flower petals.
“She is grateful the court recognized the inappropriateness of pretrial detention,” her lawyer said afterward.
Before she was released, Shafiq was ordered to surrender her passport and barred from having any contact with alleged victims, witnesses or co-defendants.
“They’re friends,” her lawyer said.
Shafiq also must wear a GPS tether and is barred from using the internet, except for work and to communicate with her lawyer. Otherwise, Shafiq can only have contact with relatives.
Shafiq also cannot attend the mosque, which is part of the broader Dawoodi Bohra community based in India.
“We have concerns that obstructive conduct has taken place at that mosque,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward said Wednesday.
Shafiq was arrested Wednesday en route to the mosque, her lawyer said.
Shafiq allegedly was at the clinic Feb. 3 when prosecutors say two 7-year-old girls from Minnesota were cut at the Livonia medical clinic.
Dr. Jumana Nagarwala of Northville is accused of mutilating the genitalia of two girls Feb. 3 at the 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.
Investigators have obtained text messages exchanged among Nagarwala, Attar and Shafiq that mention meeting at the clinic Feb. 3, the night the two girls allegedly underwent the procedure.
The Attars are 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.
Nagarwala is being held without bond. The Attars were released on bond last week.
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.
Prosecutors have identified other children who may have been cut by Nagarwala, according to the criminal complaint. One girl identified Shafiq as being present for the procedure.
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 no health benefits for girls and women, according to the World Health Organization.
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.
Defense lawyers also have attacked the government’s evidence.
Fakhruddin Attar’s lawyer, Mary Chartier, said FBI surveillance footage outside the clinic is such poor quality that identifying the doctor – or anyone – is impossible.
The defense team also recently added famed constitutional law scholar and attorney Alan Dershowitz.
Shafiq was released on bond one day after an attorney alleged the mosque paid Nagarwala to perform female genital mutilation.
On Wednesday, mosque leaders released a statement attacking the claim.
“At no time has the … mosque paid for any religious medical procedure whatsoever,” the statement read. “These comments are made without factual evidence to back it up and are intended to intently misstate, overstate and inflame an already difficult situation.”