Assailants have shot dead two members of an anti-Taliban peace committee in northwestern Pakistan’s Swat Valley, where Taliban fighters earlier attempted to kill teenage rights activist Malala Yousafzai, police have told Al Jazeera.
The shootings on Thursday night have heightened fears that a campaign of targeted killings against anti-Taliban leaders is continuing, despite the government having said it has tightened security in the valley following the attack on Yousafzai on October 9.
The latest incidents took place in the Charbagh area, about 10km north of Mingora, the valley’s main town.
Police said the attackers opened fire on Tajim Gul late on Thursday night in front of a mosque, while Sardar Mohammad was gunned down at his home.
“They were fired upon by unidentified men. We are trying to find them, but so far have not made any serious headway,” Aleem Madad, an official at the Charbagh police station, told Al Jazeera.
“In both incidents the attackers managed to flee. We have registered a case against the unknown attackers,” Liaqat Ali, another police official, told the AFP news agency.
Mohammad’s five-year-old son was injured in the shooting.
Residents said both victims were members of local peace committee and they blamed the Taliban for the killing.
Malala, who won international recognition for a blog about the life as a schoolgirl under the Taliban and a campaign for the right to an education, is one of the more prominent targets that the Taliban have attacked in Swat in recent years.
The army declared Swat, once known as the “Switzerland of Pakistan”, back under control in July 2009, after defeating radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah and his Taliban fighters who waged a two-year campaign of terror in the district.
Malala ‘to return’
On Friday, Malala’s father told media at the hospital where she is now being treated in the UK that his daughter’s condition was “improving with encouraging speed”.
“It’s a miracle for us. She was in a very bad condition,” Ziauddin Yousafzai said, after arriving in Birmingham on Thursday along with other family members.
In previous comments, Yousafzai vowed that Malala would return home after finishing medical treatment at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Britain’s second city, despite new threats against her.
Malala, shot for advocating girls’ education in her native Swat Valley, was airlifted to Britain on October 15 for specialist treatment from the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi. Doctors in Birmingham said on Friday that she was comfortable and responding well to treatment.
Before his departure for the UK, Yousafzai spoke to Pakistani state television, marking the first time he had spoken publicly since the shooting.
“I first laughed at it because all of our sacrifices, my personal [sacrifices], or this attack on my daughter, cannot have such a cheap purpose that we would go to some other country and live the rest of our life there,” he said, speaking in Urdu.
Since she was shot on October 9, Malala has become a hero both at home and internationally, although her work in speaking out against Taliban atrocities has long been respected and known beyond her home town.
Blog for BBC
At the age of 11, Malala began writing a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC about life under the Taliban in Swat. After the military ousted Taliban fighters in 2009, she began publicly speaking out about the need for girls’ education.
She appeared frequently in the media and was given one of the country’s highest civilian honours for her bravery.
A Taliban assailant shot her in the neck and head as she was on a school bus on her way home from school in Swat’s city of Mingora. Two other girls were injured in the attack.
The Taliban have vowed to kill her, raising questions about whether it would be safe for her to return but her father dispelled reports the family might seek asylum abroad.
The Taliban said they targeted Malala because she promotes “Western thinking”, and have vowed to finish the job in the future.
Malala’s father spoke alongside Rehman Malik, interior minister, at the minister’s Islamabad office. Malik promised that the government would protect Malala and her family when they return.
Malik said Malala had asked her father to bring some of her school books with him on his way to Britain.
“Even while sitting there she is taking care of her schooling,” Malik said.