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Grand jury questions witnesses in female genital cutting case

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan
Witnesses were seen entering the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

A federal grand jury questioned additional witnesses in the a female genital cutting case. According to a report by the Detroit News, as many as six people were seen entering the grand jury suite in a federal court Wednesday who appear to be members of the Dawoodi Bohra, the religious community surrounding the case.

Peter Henning is a former federal prosecutor. He says the prosecutors are likely working to bolster the case.

“The government is allowed to continue its investigation and has to be very careful that it just doesn't gather evidence to use at trial against the current defendants, but if the grand jury finds there's probable cause to add charges then a superceding indictment can be issued to add charges or defendants to the case.”

Eight people have been charged in the case, including Dr. Jumana Nagarwala. She's accused of conspiring to cut the genitals of two girls from Minnesota and four from Michigan. The defense claimed that the federal law against female genital mutilation is unconstitutional because it was enacted under the commerce clause of the U.S. constitution, but the law does not relate to any interstate commerce.

Henning says that the grand jury testimony may allow the government to add more victims in other states, possibly countering the defense claims by showing that travel between states was involved in the crime.

This case is the first to be charged under the federal female genital mutilation statute. U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman will make a decision on the constitutionality of the claim when the trial begins in January.

If additional charges are added to the case, or if a superceding indictment is filed, that could also delay the case, according to Henning.

Nargarwala is charged with cutting the genitals of two 7-year-old girls from Minnesota and four girls from Michigan between the ages of 8 and 12.

Female genital mutilation is a religiously-based practice common in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia in which the external genitals are cut or removed. It has been a federal crime in the U.S. since 1996.

Dr. Nagarwala, a resident of Northville, was arrested in April 2017 and charged with a conspiracy to mutilate the genitals of girls over a period of 12 years. The Dawoodi Bohra sect traditionally practice female genital cutting. Fakhruddin Attar, the owner of the Burhani Medical Clinic in Livonia, where the alleged cutting occurred, and his wife Farida Attar have also been charged with crimes in the case.

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