Female Genital Mutilation Probe Widens to LA, Chicago, New York

FGM Jean-Marc BoujuAP
Jean-Marc Bouju/AP

The first-of-its-kind federal investigation of a female genital mutilation (FGM) conspiracy appears to have moved beyond the original upper-Midwestern focus to elsewhere in the country, court documents filed Tuesday reveal.

In a bid to get her client, former Detroit area emergency room doctor Jumana Nagarwala, out of pre-trial detention, defense attorney Shannon Smith filed a reply brief in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan Tuesday. Concluding, Smith confirmed that she expects new FGM arrests and indictments in Chicago and Los Angeles.

The alleged conspiracy to sexually mutilate young girls captured the country’s imagination in April, when Nargarwala was arrested on the first ever federal charges under a law banning the gruesome primarily-Muslim practice.

The investigation rapidly expanded as the extent of the conspiracy, believed to be focused on the Dawoodi Bohras, a Muslim sect originating in India whose leaders hold FGM to be an essential article of faith, became clear.

A second Michigan doctor, Fakhruddin Attar, was quickly arrested. Four additional defendants, Farida Attar (Fakhurddin’s wife), Tahera Shafio, Farida Arif, and Fatema Dahodwala now stand in the docket. The official list of victims, begun with two Minnesota girls, seven-years-old, who are alleged to have been brought across state lines by their parents to have their genitals mutilated by the doctors at Attar’s Burhani Medical Clinic in Livonia, Michigan, has now grown to six in the latest indictment.

The conspiracy, however, is claimed to be larger still. Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward, a prosecutor in the case, told the Detroit News in June that she estimated at least 100 victims of the Muslim mutilation ring over the last 12 years.

Tuesday, it became clear the geographic scope of the conspiracy was similarly underestimated. A Detroit News report indicates that, in addition to L.A. and Chicago, at least one other person in New York City is being investigated by federal law enforcement agencies for involvement in the conspiracy.

According to defense attorneys and other sources who spoke with Detroit News, the FBI and ICE’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Unit are looking into Dawoodi Bohras “communities” across the country for potential involvement in the plot. The original complaints in the case did not refer to the Dawoodi Bohras, or even Islam in general, using only the euphemism “a particular religious and cultural community.”

The attention of the case has brought the group into national focus. For example, it has emerged that the Dawoodi world leader, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, has called for the “tradition” of female genital mutilation to continue indefinitely, considering it necessary for “purity.”

FGM is a practice common primarily in Muslim countries, particularly those in Africa. For example, UNICEF estimates that 98% of Somali girls and 87% of Egyptians have endured the procedure. The victims—mostly young girls—are subjected to various degrees of trimming, modification, or removal of their sexual organs. In its most extreme from, called infibulation, the girl is left with virtually no externally visible genitalia. The clitoris and labia are removed entirely and what is left is sown together, leaving only a small hole from which to urinate and menstruate. It is not entirely clear how severely the victims in this conspiracy were mutilated, but reports indicate at least some of them are missing their clitorises.

.