Five months after a historic genital mutilation case surfaced in Detroit, two Minnesota mothers were charged today with subjecting their 8-year-old daughters to genital cutting procedures at a Livonia clinic.
According to court documents, the mothers drove the girls to metro Detroit in February — tricking them into thinking they were going on a special girls weekend — and then drove them to a medical clinic and gave a doctor their blessings to cut the girls.
The mothers are among eight defendants, including two doctors, who have been charged in what is the nation's first federal genital mutilation trial. Prosecutors estimate that as many as 100 minor girls had their genitals cut in Michigan at the hands of a local doctor who allegedly performed the procedures with the blessings of the children's parents.
At least two of those victims were from Minnesota. According to court documents, it was their experiences that triggered an investigation that planted a bullseye on a small Indian Muslim sect known as the Dawoodi Bohra that performs genital circumcision on girls as a religious practice.
According to an indictment unsealed on Thursday, the two Minnesota mothers, Haseena Halfal and Zainab Hariyanawala, are both Dawoodi Bohra members. They are accused of driving their daughters to Livonia in February and taking them to a medical clinic where a a local doctor cut their genitals, court records show.
The mothers are charged with conspiracy to commit female genital mutilation and female genital mutilation under a federal law that has never been tested before.
Defense attorney Dan Homstad, who is representing Halfal, said he is planning a vigorous defense.
"This is a cultural issue that the Dawoodi (Bohra) community up here in the Twin Cities is struggling with," Homstad said. "My client and her husband are wonderful parents of two really intelligent children, and they are struggling with this issue, as well. The arrest was hard on the family but we look forward to our day in court."
According to Homstad, Halfal's two children, a boy and a girl, are still in her custody.
"The children are fine and they excel in school. They’re brilliant," Homstad said.
An attorney could not be reached for the other mother.
All of the defendants in the case are members of the Dawoodi Bohra.
The lead defendant is Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, 44, of Farmington Hills, who is charged with subjecting at least six minor girls to genital cutting procedures at a Livonia clinic. She is currently jailed pending the outcome of her case, though she is still fighting for bond.
The other defendants in the case include: Dr. Fakhruddin Attar, 53, of Farmington Hills, who is accused of letting Nagarwala use his clinic to perform genital cutting procedures on minor girls over 12 years; and his wife, Farida Attar, 50, who is accused of holding the girls' hands during the procedure to keep them from squirming and to calm them.
To date, the government says it has identified eight victims -- including the two Minnesota girls — though Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward said the government estimates there could be as many as 100 victims. She said that's a conservative estimate, and that it's based on Dr. Attar's alleged admission to authorities that he let Nagarwala use his clinic up to six times a year to treat children for genital rashes.
The defense has argued that the accused did not engage in any criminal act and that the procedure at issue is a protected religious rite-of-passage that involves no cutting, but rather a scraping of genital membrane.
If convicted, Nagarwala and Dr. Attar face up to life in prison; Attar's wife faces up to 20 years. The two physicians face the most serious charge in the case, transportation of an individual with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, which carries a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of life in prison.
A trial is set for Oct. 10.
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