A Michigan doctor and his wife were arrested Friday morning for providing the clinic where Dr. Jumana Nagarwala allegedly performed female genital mutilation surgeries on girls as young as six.
Federal prosecutors charged Fakhruddin Attar and his wife, Farida, for conspiring to perform FGM on minors. Neither Attar nor his wife are alleged to have carried out the procedures themselves, but investigators claim the couple facilitated Nagarwala’s procedures and coordinated appointments with parents. The Attars urged parents to deny the procedures had taken place after Nagarwala was charged, prosecutors claim.
Nagarwala, an emergency room clinic physician at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, was arrested last week.
“The alleged criminal activity did not occur at any Henry Ford Facility. We would never support or condone this practice,” a hospital spokesperson told The Daily Beast after Nagarwala’s arrest.
Instead, Nagarwala performed the alleged surgeries at the Burhani Medical Clinic in the suburb of Livonia, which is owned and operated by Fakhruddin Attar. Attar’s wife is the office manager.
According to the criminal complaint, Nagarwala and her alleged co-conspirators were careful not to leave a paper trail: she’s not employed by BMC and there’s no record of her billing the clinic for medical procedures there.
On April 10, Attar told federal investigators that Nagarwala occasionally sees young patients, between 6 and 9 years old, at his clinic for “problems with their genitals, including treatment of genital rashes.” According to Attar, Nagarwala never charged any money for seeing patients at BMC, and only attended to patients at the clinic after regular business hours, usually on Friday evenings or Saturdays.
Attar began contacting a Minnesota phone number in October 2016, according to the criminal complaint. Between October 2016 and January 2017, he had more than 50 calls with the Minnesota number.
On February 3, 2017, two adult women and their young daughters visited Attar’s clinic, according to surveillance footage. One girl entered BMC at 6:25 p.m. and left less than 20 minutes later. The second girl left the clinic at 7:02 p.m. Surveillance footage shows Nagarwala had arriving at the clinic at 6:09 p.m. and leaving at 7:03 p.m. with Attar, just one minute after the girls left with their parents.
The first girl later told investigators she and another girl were brought to Detroit for a “special” girls’ trip and that they had to go to the doctors because their “tummies hurt.” The second girl told investigators she “got a shot” on her upper right thigh, and was in so much pain after the procedure that she could hardly walk.
Both girls identified Nagarwala as the doctor who performed the procedure. The first girl told investigators that two other adult women were at the room.
On April 10, Attar told admitted that his wife is present in the examining room while Nagarwala treats patients “in order to comfort them and hold their hands.” He told investigators Nagarwala sees patients at his clinic five or six times a year.
According to the criminal complaint, two additional Michigan parents said Nagarwala had performed FGM on their daughters at Attar’s clinic. On March 31, Attar’s wife used Nagarwala’s phone to call one of the parents, urging them to “completely deny the allegation and say that nothing had happened.”
At a hearing on Monday, Nagarwala’s attorney claimed her client had performed a “religious practice” on young girls, but denied that there was any “cutting” involved. Instead, Nagarwala removed the membrane from the girls’ genitals as part of a religious custom practiced by a small sect of Indian Muslims called the Dawoodi Bohra, the Detroit Free Press reported.
“FGM is not a religious practice, it is a cultural tradition that happens in every region of the world,” Jaha Dukureh, founder of anti-FGM charity Safe Hands for Girls, told The Daily Beast in a statement. «Sadly, the reported details of the alleged suffering of two seven-year-old girls are too familiar to those of us who have experienced this human rights abuse.»
But doctors observed “some scar tissue and smeall healing lacerations” on one of the two seven-year-old girls’ genitals, and a “small incision” and “small tear” on the other girl’s, according to the criminal complaints against Nagarwala and the Attar couple.
Nagarwala and the Attars belonged to the Anjuman-e-Najmi mosque in Farmington Hills, the Detroit News reported. The mosque is the only Dawoodi Bohra mosque in Michigan, and Attar has reportedly served as its treasurer and leader.
“The Dawoodi Bohras do not support the violation of any U.S. law, local, state or federal. We offer our assistance to the investigating authorities,” an Anjuman-e-Najmi spokesperson told The Daily Beast in a statement. “Any violation of U.S. law is counter to instructions to our community members. 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.”
On Thursday, one of the two girls was allowed to return to her parents’ custody after being temporarily removed from their home, the Associated Press reported. The girl’s parents are required to get her “medical and psychiatric care” and have to submit to home visits from a social worker.
Nagarwala and the Attar couple are believed to be the first people charged under the 1996 federal law that criminalizes FGM. Nagarwala is charged with female genital mutilation, transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, and making a false statement to a federal officer. She faces life in prison if she is found guilty on all counts.