2 moms charged as genital mutilation scandal widens

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — Federal prosecutors unveiled charges Thursday against the mothers of two 7-year-old girls from Minnesota whose genitalia were cut during a religious procedure earlier this year.

Haseena Halfal, 34, of Plymouth, Minnesota, and Zainab Hariyanawala, 31, were indicted five months after federal prosecutors unveiled the first female genital mutilation case in U.S. history.

The mothers were charged with female genital mutilation and conspiracy to commit female genital mutilation, according to the indictment, which was unsealed Thursday.

Halfal is a U.S. citizen and has custody of her daughter and a son, defense lawyer Dan Homstad told The News. He said he plans a vigorous defense.

“This is a very complex case and there are a lot of cultural issues at play that the (Dawoodi Bohra) community up here is struggling with,” Homstad said. “I represent two very caring and intelligent parents of two wonderful children. This arrest, of course, is very hard on the family.”

Halfal was arrested at her home Thursday by the FBI and arraigned in federal court in St. Paul, her lawyer said. She was released on bond and is expected to make an initial appearance Sept. 21 in Detroit federal court.

The status of Hariyanawala, whose hometown was not immediately available Thursday, was unclear and her lawyer did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Before Thursday, six people had been charged in a conspiracy to cut prepubescent girls as part of a religious procedure practiced by some members of the Dawoodi Bohra, a small sect of Shia Muslims from India.

Locally, most members of the sect belong to the Anjuman-e-Najmi mosque in Farmington Hills.

The lead defendant is Dr. Jumana Nagarwala of Northville, who is accused of mutilating the genitalia of the two Minnesota girls at a Livonia clinic in February.

Prosecutors estimate up to 100 girls were cut during the 12-year conspiracy. So far, the indictment references six victims.

The indictment is the latest development in a high-profile criminal case that has raised awareness about the procedure – and sharp divisions over it.

Prosecutors say the girls were cut but defense lawyers say the procedure performed on the girls was benign and not female genital mutilation. They accuse the government of overreaching.

Nagarwala is accused of mutilating the Minnesota girls Feb. 3 at the Burhani Medical Clinic in Livonia, 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.

The couple were arrested earlier this year and accused of accused of committing female genital mutilation, trying to cover up the crime and conspiring with Nagarwala to cut girls.

The indictment alleges Nagarwala and the Minnesota mothers plotted a night-time rendezvous at the Livonia clinic.

Nagarwala sent text messages to the moms directing them to meet her at the clinic Feb. 3, prosecutors allege.

The mothers drove with their daughters from Minnesota to Metro Detroit so Nagarwala could perform female genital mutilation that day at the Livonia facility, according to the indictment.

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.

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.

Prosecutors disagree.

“Their pants and underwear were removed ... and Dr. Nagarwala approached with a sharp tool to cut their genitals,” assistant U.S. attorney Sara Woodward said during an earlier court hearing.

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Twitter: @robertsnellnews