A 14-year-old Pakistani activist who won international acclaim for speaking out for girls denied education under the Taliban was shot on Tuesday on her way home from school, authorities said.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack on ninth-grader Malala Yousafzai, who officials said was shot in the neck by at least one gunman who approached a school bus in Mingora, a city in the Swat valley in the country’s northwest.
Yousafzai, who was taken to a military hospital in Peshawar, was expected to survive, doctors said. A seventh-grade girl was shot in the leg, local police said.
Yousafzai became known in early 2009, when she wrote a diary about Taliban atrocities. In 2011, the Pakistani government awarded her for her bravery in raising her voice for children’s rights and girls’ education when few others in Pakistan dared to.
Yousafzai also was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2011. The seventh-grader who was wounded in the leg said she and her classmates were leaving school when the attack occurred.
“Two bearded armed men stopped our school van and asked for Malala and opened fire from behind the van,” the girl, named Shazia, said from the hospital where she and Yousafzai were first taken.
Ihsanullah Ihsan, chief spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, said in calls to the media that the militant group targeted Yousafzai because she generated “negative propaganda” about Muslims.
“She considers President Obama as her ideal. Malala is the symbol of the infidels and obscenity,” Ihsan said.
Leaders speak up
Political leaders condemned the attack. “We have to fight the mind-set that is involved in this. We have to condemn it,” said Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf. “Malala is like my daughter and yours, too. If that mindset prevails, then whose daughter would be safe?”
“This is a highly condemnable act of terror and an attempt to silence a brave voice,” said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, a spokesman for the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government. Yousafzai also is an advocate for literacy in the Swat valley.
She started her diary when the Taliban banned girls’ education and bombed hundreds of schools, mostly those for girls, in Swat.
Her father, Zia Uddin Yousafzai, is an educator and a member of Swat’s peace jirga, or tribal gathering. “She is all right,” he said in an interview. “Please pray for her early recovery and health.”