The Pakistani government has offered a Rs10 million ($105,000) bounty for the capture of the Pakistani Taliban assailants who shot Malala Yousafzai, a teenage rights activist campaigning for girls’ education, in the northwestern Swat Valley, officials say.
Yousafzai, a 14-year-old schoolgirl, was shot in the head and neck on Tuesday, and has since undergone surgery to remove a bullet lodged in her skull.
She was attacked on her way home from school in Mingora, the main town of Swat Valley, and is being treated at Peshawar’s Combined Military Hospital.
Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that Yousafzai had been sedated following her surgery, and that doctors would reassess her condition in 48 hours.
He said she was in stable condition, but was not out of danger.
“The government has decided to award Rs10 million rupees to whoever helps us identify the attackers and their names will be kept secret,” he said.
Rehman Malik, the country’s interior minister, said on Wednesday that authorities had identified the attackers, but no arrests had been made.
Prayers for recovery
Prayers were offered across the country for Yousafzai’s recovery and students at a demonstration in support of her said that Yousafzai “is like our sister”.
“We pray for her earliest recovery and well-being,” said 14-year-old Shamaila, who goes to the same school as Yousafzai.
“We also pray that other students can benefit from Malala’s enlightening views.”
Classmate Brekhna Rahim said Yousafzai “wished to have enough money and build schools in every village for girls in Swat”.
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The entire Swat Valley was in shock over the shooting, she said, glued to their televisions and crying as they watched the endlessly repeated scenes of her being stretchered to hospital.
Hussain, the provincial information minister, told Al Jazeera that “every child in [Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa] is under threat”, but the provincial government “doesn’t have the resources” to provide them all with security.
“Schools can be provided security and we’re looking into it. We’re all on target, we are and we will have to face these threats bravely. We’ll definitely provide security to Malala and their family as they are still on the target list,” he said.
Yousafzai was with her classmates in a school van when unidentified men stopped the vehicle, asking if it belonged to Yousafzai’s school.
One of the gunmen then asked: “Where is Malala?”
As she was identified, the assailant reportedly drew a pistol and shot her in the head and neck. Two other girls on the bus were also wounded. They were treated for their injuries at a nearby hospital.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Ehsanullah Ehsan, a Pakistani Taliban spokesperson, said the group had repeatedly warned Yousafzai to stop speaking out against them.
“She is a Western-minded girl. She always speaks against us,” he said by telephone from an undisclosed location.
“We will target anyone who speaks against the Taliban.”
The Taliban said it was not only “allowed” to target young girls, but it was “obligatory” when such a person “leads a campaign against Islam and sharia”.
The group also criticised media coverage of the shooting, saying: “After this incident, [the] media poured out all of its smelly propaganda against Taliban mujahideen with their poisonous tongues.
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” […] will the blind media pay any attention to the hundreds of respectful sisters whom are in the secret detention centres of ISI [Pakistan’s spy agency] and suffering by their captivity?”
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Raja Pervez Ashraf, prime minister, both strongly condemned the attack on Yousafzai, as did Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general; Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state; and other world leaders.
Pakistan’s national airline has placed an air ambulance on standby to take Yousafzai abroad for treatment if needed, government sources said, but medics are wary of lengthy travel times given her unstable condition.
Officials have rushed to issue her a passport.
Private schools in Swat Valley shut their doors in protest on Wednesday, though government schools were opened as per usual.
The local chapter of the TTP, led by Maulana Fazlullah, controlled much of Swat from 2007 to 2009, but were driven out by an army offensive in July 2009.
Local reports indicate, however, that the group was only driven into the surrounding areas, rather than being wiped out, and it has since staged a resurgence.
Tuesday’s shooting in broad daylight in Mingora raises serious questions about security more than three years after the army claimed to have crushed the local Taliban.
Yousafzai rose to international prominence as an 11-year-old in 2009, writing an anonymous diary for BBC Urdu about life under the Taliban, before featuring in two documentaries made by the New York Times.
She also featured in an Al Jazeera documentary.
She had famously stood against the TTP’s attempts to stop girls from going to school, and was awarded the National Peace Award for Youth.
The international children’s advocacy group KidsRights Foundation nominated her for the International Children’s Peace Prize, making her the first Pakistani girl put forward for the award.
Her struggle resonated with tens of thousands of girls who were being denied an education by the Taliban and other armed groups across northwest Pakistan, where the government has been fighting such groups since 2007.