Robert Snell , The Detroit News
Federal agents arrested a second doctor and his wife Friday in a widening conspiracy involving female genital mutilation and members of a Muslim sect.
Dr. Fakhruddin Attar is accused of letting Dr. Jumana Nagarwala perform mutilations at his Burhani Medical Clinic on Farmington Road. His wife, office manager Farida Attar, also was arrested and is accused of helping Nagarwala perform the mutilations, according to a 14-page complaint unsealed Friday in federal court.
The arrests are the latest development in the nation’s first female genital mutilation case, which is providing insight into a small, insular Muslim community in Metro Detroit and an illegal procedure performed on young girls.
The complaint solves a mystery stemming from the case by pinpointing where Nagarwala allegedly mutilated two 7-year-old girls from Minnesota earlier this year. The complaint also describes a conspiracy involving at least Nagarwala, Attar and his wife — all three are members of the Dawoodi Bohra religious community based locally out of a Farmington Hills mosque.
Attar, 52, and his 50-year-old wife were arraigned in federal court Friday afternoon and ordered jailed until a detention hearing Wednesday. Both were dressed in the distinctive attire of Dawoodi Bohra members — he wore a white cap with gold trim, while his wife wore a long teal dress and head covering with pink fringe.
“Dr. Attar is not aware of any crimes committed at his clinic,” defense lawyer Mary Chartier told reporters outside court. “This is frightening for them and terrifying.”
She criticized the government for waiting until Friday to arrest the doctor.
“It’s classic gamesmanship by the government, knowing they would spend the weekend in custody,” she said. “I’m not surprised the government would pull that stunt.”
Gina Balaya, the U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman, said prosecutors were prepared to hold a detention hearing Friday, during which U.S. Magistrate Judge David Grand could have decided whether to release the couple on bond.
“As reflected in open court, it was at the request of the defense that the hearing be set for Wednesday,” Balaya told The News.
The Farmington Hills couple were arrested around 9:30 a.m. Friday at Burhani Medical Clinic and federal agents were spotted inside.
Embassy Title Agency Inc. owner Kate McCarty’s office is next door to the Burhani clinic. She watched Attar’s arrest Friday after he arrived in the parking lot and is shaken by allegations of mutilations that allegedly happened next door.
“What do you think? It’s disgusting,” McCarty said. “I mean, it’s terrible.”
The arrests come 11 days after agents raided the clinic amid an investigation triggered by the two Minnesota girls who were brought to Metro Detroit in February and subjected to female genital mutilation.
Attar and his wife were charged with conspiracy to commit female genital mutilation and aiding and abetting female genital mutilation.
Nagarwala, meanwhile, was charged in federal court April 12 and is being held without bond on charges that could send her to federal prison for life.
According to court records and testimony, Nagarwala is a member of the Dawoodi Bohra, a small Muslim sect from India that was linked to a mutilation scandal in Australia two years ago.
Sect members locally belong to the Anjuman-e-Najmi mosque on Orchard Lake Road in Farmington Hills. It’s the only Dawoodi Bohra mosque in Michigan.
The Dawoodi Bohras hail mostly from western India and were traditionally comprised of businessmen, entrepreneurs and professionals. There are about 1 million followers worldwide.
Two years ago, three Dawoodi Bohras faced trial in Australia in a case that raised awareness of female genital mutilation. The case ended in prison sentences for the three, including a Dawoodi Bohra community leader.
Leaders of the Farmington Hills mosque released a statement Friday saying they are offering assistance to investigators.
“Any violation of U.S. law is counter to instructions to our community members,” the statement said. “It does not reflect the everyday lives of the Dawoodi Bohras in America.
“It is an important rule of the Dawoodi Bohras that we respect the laws of the land, wherever we live,” the statement continued. “This is precisely what we have done for several generations in America. We remind our members regularly of their obligations.”
Illegal since 1996
Nagarwala’s husband, Moiz Nagarwala, is listed as a leader of the Farmington Hills mosque, according to the mosque’s password-protected website, and records list him as having served as joint treasurer.
Attar has served as treasurer and a leader of the Farmington Hills mosque, according to the Anjuman-e-Najmi website.
Prosecutors said some members of the religious and cultural community practice female genital mutilation on young girls.
Some members of the community who have spoken against the practice said the surgery 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.
Nagarwala has denied performing female genital mutilation.
Her lawyer said Nagarwala merely performed a religious procedure that involved removing mucous membrane from the girls’ genitalia and giving it to relatives for burial.
The FBI and Homeland Security Investigations agents allege Attar and his wife arranged and helped Nagarwala perform the mutilations, according to the complaint.
“Farida assists Nagarwala during the procedures,” Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Lisa Keith wrote in the complaint.
Nagarwala, 44, a Henry Ford Health System emergency room physician from Northville, is accused of performing the procedure at a Livonia clinic after the facility closed for the evening. She did not charge money to perform the procedures and did not fill out paperwork, according to courtroom testimony.
The Burhani clinic is on the edge of a neighborhood north of Five Mile, a half-mile north of the Livonia Police Department.
Attar owns the private clinic and also is a member of the medical staff at St. Mary Mercy Livonia hospital.
Laura Blodgett, a hospital spokeswoman, said in a statement Friday that Attar had been placed on leave.
“He does not have any surgical privileges nor performed any surgical procedures at St. Mary Mercy, and our hospital has no affiliation with the Burhani Medical Clinic,” Blodgett said in an email. “The U.S. prosecutor’s office has confirmed to us that there are no allegations of any activity involving St. Mary Mercy hospital in any way.”
The tale of the tape
Attar received his medical education at Maharaja Sayajirao University Faculty of Medicine in western India, according to the hospital’s website.
In a photo of Attar on the hospital’s website, the doctor is wearing a traditional Dawoodi Bohra white and gold cap.
The Burhani clinic has surveillance video. A sign on the clinic door during a visit Wednesday warned visitors that there is a closed-circuit video camera in operation.
Agents seized surveillance footage from Feb. 3, the day prosecutors allege Nagarwala mutilated the girls’ genitalia.
At 6:09 p.m., the footage shows Nagarwala arriving in the parking lot of Burhani Medical Clinic and meeting with Fakhruddin Attar.
Fakhruddin Attar is seen handing the doctor a white bag before both enter the clinic.
Minutes later, Farida Attar arrives at the clinic, followed by a woman and a girl, according to the complaint.
The mutilation was over within 17 minutes, according to the federal agent.
After the first girl and her mother left, a second girl and an adult woman arrived at the clinic.
The second victim and her mother were at the clinic for 20 minutes before leaving.
After the alleged procedure, the second girl was examined by a doctor who found the girl’s genitalia had a small cut and small tear.
The girl identified Nagarwala as the doctor who performed the procedure, the government alleges.
The second girl said two women were present during the procedure and that they held her hands through the alleged mutilation.
The girl “identified a photograph of (Farida Attar) as one of the women who held her hands,” the agent wrote in the complaint.
During questioning, the second girl’s parents confirmed they brought their daughter to see Nagarwala for a “cleansing” of extra skin, the agent added.
Medical examinations of the Minnesota victims after their visit to Metro Detroit showed abnormal genitalia that had scar tissue and small lacerations, investigators said. In one case, a section of a girl’s genitalia had been removed or altered, according to court records.
Investigators questioned Fakhruddin Attar on April 10. He said Nagarwala occasionally sees patients at his clinic, according to the complaint.
The patients are girls and members of the Dawoodi Bohra community, ages 6-9.
Fakhruddin Attar told investigators Nagarwala sees minor girls for “problems with their genitals, including treatment of genital rashes.”
Nagarwala only sees the patients when the clinic is closed on Fridays and Saturdays and performs the procedures for free, he added.
She sees patients at the clinic five or six times a year, he said.
There are more victims in Michigan, prosecutors allege.
On March 31, agents obtained a court order to listen to Nagarwala’s phone calls.
During one call, Farida Attar was heard advising parents of one Michigan child to deny to law enforcement that the procedures were being performed, according to the agent.
“Farida told the parent to completely deny the allegation, and to say that nothing has happened,” the agent wrote.