(TheBlaze/AP) — A Taliban gunman walked up to a bus taking children home from school in Pakistan’s volatile Swat Valley Tuesday, shooting and wounding a 14-year-old activist known for championing the education of girls and publicizing atrocities committed by the Taliban, officials said.
The attack in the city of Mingora targeted 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai, who is widely respected for her work to promote the schooling of girls– something that the Taliban strongly opposes. She was nominated last year for the International Children’s Peace Prize.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, calling Malala’s work “a new chapter of obscenity” that must be “finished.”
The bus was about to leave the school when a bearded man approached and asked which one of the girls was Malala, the town’s police chief town explained. Another girl pointed to Malala, but the activist denied it was her so the gunmen apparently shot both of the girls.
Malala was shot twice– once in the head and once in the neck– but her wounds were not life-threatening, said Tariq Mohammad, a doctor at the main hospital in Mingora. The second girl shot was in stable condition, the doctor said. Pakistani television showed pictures of Malala being taken by helicopter to a military hospital in the frontier city of Peshawar.
“She was pro-West, she was speaking against Taliban and she was calling President Obama her idol,” Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told Reuters. “She was young, but she was promoting Western culture…”
In the past, the Taliban has threatened Malala and her family for her activism. When she was only 11 years old, she began writing a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC’s Urdu service about life under Taliban occupation. After the Taliban were ejected from the Swat Valley in the summer of 2009, she began speaking out publicly about the militant group and the need for girls’ education.
While chairing a session of a children’s assembly supported by UNICEF in the valley last year, the then-13-year-old championed a greater role for young people.
“Girl members play an active role,” she said, according to an article on the U.N. organization’s website. “We have highlighted important issues concerning children, especially promoting girls’ education in Swat.”
The attack displayed the viciousness of Islamic militants in the Swat Valley, where the military conducted a major operation in 2009 to clear out insurgents. The scenic valley– nicknamed the Switzerland of Pakistan– was once a popular tourist destination for Pakistanis, but the Taliban’s near-total takeover of the area in 2008 transformed it practically overnight.
Part of a wave of al-Qaida and Taliban fighters expanding their reach from safe havens near the Afghan border, militants forced men to grow beards, restricted women from going to the bazaar, whipped women they considered immoral and beheaded opponents.
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During the roughly two years of their rule, Taliban in the region destroyed nearly 200 schools. Most were girls’ institutions, though some prominent boys’ schools were struck as well.
While the Pakistani military managed to flush out the insurgents during the military operation, their Taliban’s top leadership escaped, leaving many of the valley’s residents on edge.
Kamila Hayat, a senior official of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, praised Malala for standing up to the militants and sending a message across the world that Pakistani girls had the courage to fight for their rights. But she also worried that Tuesday’s 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. “These are the forces who want to take us to the dark ages.”
Associated Press writer Abdul Sattar in Quetta and Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.