A doctor was charged Thursday with performing genital mutilation on two young Minnesota girls who traveled to Michigan with their mothers, the first federal prosecution of what the government describes as "horrifying acts of brutality."
Dr. Jumana Nagarwala was arrested after the 7-year-olds identified her as the person who performed procedures on them in February at a clinic in suburban Detroit, according to the FBI.
Nagarwala heard the allegations during a brief appearance in U.S. District Court and was returned to jail to await another hearing Monday. Prosecutors want to keep her locked up without bond.
Defense attorney Shannon Smith declined to comment to reporters. In a court filing, the FBI said many more girls have told investigators that Nagarwala performed procedures on their genitals.
"Despite her oath to care for her patients, Dr. Nagarwala is alleged to have performed horrifying acts of brutality on the most vulnerable victims," said Kenneth Blanco, acting U.S. assistant attorney general.
Female genital mutilation of minors is illegal in the U.S. unless there's a legitimate health reason. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit said it's the first case of its kind to be prosecuted in federal court.
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The FBI said Nagarwala, 44, is a member of a cultural community that believes in the practice but that she denied performing it when interviewed by agents. She is charged with genital mutilation, making false statements and other crimes.
A winter glove belonging to one of the 7-year-old girls was found at the Livonia clinic. The parents of that child told investigators they took her to Michigan to see Nagarwala "for a 'cleansing' of extra skin," FBI agent Kevin Swanson said.
The government didn't disclose the name of the suburban clinic. Nagarwala apparently doesn't work there regularly. The World Health Organization said the practice of removing or injuring female genital organs has no known health benefits. Yet it has been performed on more than 200 million women and girls in 30 countries, according to the group.
"It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children," WHO says on its website.
Nagarwala, a 1998 graduate of Johns Hopkins medical school in Baltimore, has been placed on leave at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit where she is an emergency room doctor. Online records show no history of discipline by state regulators.
"The alleged criminal activity did not occur at any Henry Ford facility. We would never support or condone anything related to this practice," hospital spokesman David Olejarz said.