Flight for life: As darkness falls, girl shot by the Taliban arrives in Britain for treatment

Malala Yousafzai faces 'weeks if not months' of therapy for head injuries sustained in attack
  • @tompeck

The 14-year-old Pakistani girl whose shooting by the Taliban last week caused worldwide revulsion, was flown into Birmingham yesterday in an air ambulance from Rawalpindi, and is being assessed at a leading trauma centre for gunshot wounds and head injuries.

Malala Yousafzai was shot last Tuesday for "promoting secularism" by writing a blog about her campaign for girls' education, which was all but suspended when the Taliban took control of the Swat valley, where she lives with her family.

She is expected to undergo surgery at Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Her treatment will last for "weeks if not months", according to the hospital's medical director Dr Dave Rosser. The flight was arranged by the United Arab Emirates and she was accompanied by military doctors. Malala has been under sedation since the murder attempt, but was briefly awoken on Sunday, when she moved her hands and legs.

She has been taken to the hospital, at the expense of the Pakistani government, as it is regarded as the best in the world to treat her injuries. The British Government indicated it would be willing to treat her shortly after news of the shooting emerged.

Malala was shot in the head and the neck, and has already had treatment in Pakistan to remove fragments of bullet. It is understood that one bullet grazed the top of her head and skull. The damaged bones in her skull will need to be either repaired or replaced, and she will need "intensive neuro-rehabilitation".

"We are the receiving hospital for all British battle casualties," Dr Rosser said. "We do, unfortunately, have tremendous experience in dealing with this sort of bullet-related injury. With battle casualties, and you can unfortunately view her as a battle casualty, our experience is they need to be seen by lots of different specialists."

Malala's parents did not travel on the plane with her. Should she and her family wish to remain permanently in the UK they would have to apply for asylum. Her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, the headmaster of a girls' school in the Swat valley, has indicated the family intends to stay in Pakistan, despite Taliban death threats.

Sirajuddin Ahmad, a spokesman for the Swat Taliban militia, said: "We have a clear-cut stance. Anyone who takes side with the government against us will have to die at our hands. You will see. Other important people will soon become victims."

The Taliban has said Malala is still a target, a fact that Dr Rosser said was "not a concern" for the hospital. "We've treated every British battlefield casualty for the last 10 years. We've got a lot of experience when it comes to security. We're not concerned."

Malala came to prominence in 2009 at the age of 11, when she started writing a diary for BBC Urdu about life under the Taliban.

Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister who is now a UN Special Envoy for Global Education, has launched a petition, which will be presented to the Pakistani President and the UN Secretary-General, "demanding that Malala and every girl, is granted their right to education".

The Pakistan government claims to have identified the men responsible for the shooting, and have offered a 10m rupee (£66,000) reward for information leading to their arrest.

The diagnosis: what happens now?

Malala was shot in the head and neck, and has already had treatment in Pakistan to remove fragments of bullet that were lodged in her head. The damaged bones in her skull will need to be repaired or replaced, and she will need "intensive neuro-rehabilitation". In the first 24 hours she will be seen by up to 17 specialists, and undergo MRI and CT scans to assess her injuries.