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Detroit-area doctors indicted in ‘brutal’ genital mutilation case

FBI agents leave the office of Dr. Fakhruddin Attar in Livonia, Mich., on Friday after completing a search for documents. (Clarence Tabb Jr. /Detroit News via AP)
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In what is believed to be the first case of its kind in the United States, a grand jury issued a federal indictment Wednesday against two Detroit-area doctors and a medical officer manager for scheming to perform female genital mutilation.

The doctors — Jumana Nagarwala and Fakhruddin Attar — along with Attar’s wife, Farida Attar, were charged with performing female genital mutilation on minor girls at Fakhruddin Attar’s medical office in Livonia, Mich. Until Wednesday, only Nagarwala, 44, was charged with performing the procedure; the others were merely charged as conspirators in the case.

Genital mutilation, outlawed in the United States, is the removal of all or part of a female’s genitals for nonmedical reasons. It is condemned by the United Nations and considered a human rights violation, but the practice is common for girls in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

The three defendants had schemed to perform the procedure on girls under 18 years of age since as early as 2005, though the exact dates are unknown, according to the indictment. All three are also charged with conspiring to obstruct the federal investigation. Nagarwala and Fakhruddin Attar, 53, are also charged with giving false statements to a federal agent.

In addition, the doctors face one count of conspiracy to transport a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity — a charge that carries a potential sentence of up to life in prison.

“Female Genital Mutilation has serious implications for the health and well-being of girls and women,” Daniel Lemisch, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, said in a statement. “This brutal practice is conducted on girls for one reason, to control them as women. FGM will not be tolerated in the United States.”

The case, which is now headed to trial, centers on allegations that the doctors performed the procedure on two Minnesota girls, both 7, who traveled to Michigan with their parents. But prosecutors say they believe there are many other victims.

In January, Nagarwala sent a text message to a parent of one of the Minnesota girls, stating, “Feb 3 at 6:45 p.m.?” according to phone records cited in the indictment. On Feb. 3, Fakhruddin Attar, an internal medicine physician, allegedly allowed Nagarwala to perform female genital mutilation procedures at his office, the Burhani Medical Clinic, after it was closed for the day. Farida Attar was employed as an office manager of the clinic.

Nagarwala has maintained through her defense lawyer that she performed a religious procedure involving removing the girls’ genital membrane and giving it to relatives for burial. She insists this was merely a scraping procedure, and it did not involve cutting the genitalia, the Detroit Free Press reported.

But according to a juvenile protection petition filed in Minnesota, along with federal court documents, the injuries sustained by the Minnesota girls are far more severe than Nagarwala described. A doctor’s findings cited scarring, a small tear, healing lacerations and what appears to be surgical removal of a portion of her genitalia, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The child protective services petition also revealed new details surrounding the parents in the case. The father of one of the 7-year-old girls allegedly knew about the trip through texts with his wife while she was in Detroit. He told a child protection investigator he now regrets letting his daughter come to Michigan in light of the explosive criminal charges, according to the documents obtained by the Detroit Free Press.

According to the petition, one of the girls told a child protection investigator that she and her friend “got cake after” the procedure “because the doctor said they were doing good.” The girl also told the investigator that “the doctor made her cry,” the petition states.

None of the parents have been charged. Authorities removed both girls from their homes, though one of them has been returned to her parents. The other girl’s child protective custody case remains sealed, and it is not known whether she has been returned to her parents yet, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The doctors and Attar’s wife are members of a small Muslim sect known as the Dawoodi Bohra. Wednesday’s indictment implies a link between the insular Dawoodi Bohra community in Detroit and the sect in Minnesota, based on phone exchanges between Fakhruddin Attar and a member of the community in Minnesota.

An organization that oversees the Dawoodi Bohra community in Detroit defended the sect in the wake of the case, saying it does not support the violation of any U.S. law and is offering its assistance to the investigating authorities.

Any violation of U.S. laws, the organization said, “does not reflect the everyday lives of the Dawoodi Bohras in America. We take our religion seriously but our culture is modern and forward-looking.”

In conspiring to perform the procedures, the indictment alleges, Nagarwala and Fakhruddin Attar agreed to make false statements to law enforcement and other investigating agencies. Nagarwala falsely stated to a special agent that she had never been present when a female genital mutilation was being performed on minors, and that she had no knowledge of the procedures being performed.

Steve Francis, acting special agent in charge from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, said in a statement: “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,”

The Attars, who have been in custody since last week, were due in court Wednesday for a bond hearing, but the hearing was rescheduled for May 3.

Outside the courthouse, defense attorney Mary Chartier said Fakhruddin Attar was not in the examination room with Nagarwala and the girls, the Associated Press reported.

“What happened at the clinic was not FGM,” Chartier said. “I believe they are being persecuted for their religious beliefs, and I do not make that allegation lightly.”

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