|(Left) An undated photograph of Malala Yousafzai; (bottom) Malala after she was shot at in the Swat Valley, northwest Pakistan, on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Islamabad, Oct. 9: A Taliban gunman walked up to a bus taking children home from school in Pakistan’s volatile Swat Valley today and shot and wounded a 14-year-old activist known for championing the education of girls and publicising Taliban atrocities.
The attack in Mingora city targeted Malala Yousafzai, the first winner of Pakistan’s National Peace Award for her work to promote girls’ schooling, which the Taliban opposes. She was nominated last year for the International Children’s Peace Prize.
Malala was shot twice, in the head and neck. Media reports quoted doctors as saying she was “out of danger” because the bullet that “struck her skull and came out on the other side and hit her shoulder” had not damaged her brain.
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility, calling Malala’s work an “obscenity” and threatening to target her again if she survived.
“This was a new chapter of obscenity, and we have to finish this chapter. We have carried out this attack,” spokesperson Ahsanullah Ahsan said over the phone. “She was pro-West... she was calling President Obama her ideal leader.”
The school bus was about to leave the school grounds when a bearded man came up and asked which of the girls was Malala, Mingora police chief Rasool Shah said. Another girl pointed to Malala but the activist denied it was her. The gunman shot both girls.
Local police sources said there were two gunmen who shot Malala and two other girls, who received bullets in their shoulders and legs. Malala has been flown to a military hospital in Peshawar.
Pakistani bloggers expressed outrage. “Come on, brothers, be REAL MEN. Kill a school girl,” posted Nadeem F. Paracha.
In the past, the Taliban had threatened Malala and her family. When she was 11, she began writing a blog under the pseudonym Gul Makai for the BBC Urdu service about life under Taliban occupation.
After the Taliban were ejected from the Swat Valley in 2009, she began speaking out publicly about the militants and the need for girls’ education at a time even the government seemed to be appeasing the insurgents.
Kamila Hayat, a rights official, praised Malala for standing up to the militants and sending a message to the world that Pakistani girls had the courage to fight for their rights. But she worried that the shooting would prevent other parents from letting their children speak out against the Taliban.
“This is an attack to silence courage through a bullet,” Hayat said. President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf condemned the attack.
The scenic Swat Valley, 280km from Islamabad, is nicknamed the “Switzerland of Pakistan” and was once a popular tourist destination. The militants began asserting their influence there in 2007, forcing men to grow beards, restricting women from going to the bazaar, whipping women they considered immoral and beheading opponents.
In the two years of their rule, the Taliban destroyed around 200 schools, mostly girls’ institutions.
In her BBC blog “Diary of a Pakistani Schoolgirl”, Malala wrote: “Some of us would go to school in plain clothes... just to pretend we are not students, and we hid our books under our shawls. We were afraid the Taliban might throw acid on our faces....”