Shot by the Taliban: the 14-year-old campaigner riding the school bus

 

Islamabad

A girl of 14 who gained worldwide acclaim for speaking out against the Pakistani Taliban's ban on education for girls was shot in the head on her way home from school yesterday.

Militant leaders said the attack on Malala Yousafzai was a warning to other "secular" youths. The teenager was sitting with other pupils in a bus ready to leave the grounds of their school when gunmen approached and asked which one was Malala. They opened fire, injuring her and two other girls in the vehicle.

The attack took place not in a wild tribal area but in the Swat Valley, a northern district where the Taliban was supposedly cleared out by the Pakistani army in 2009. Malala was airlifted from her school in the town of Mingora to hospital in the provincial capital, Peshawar, for surgery. She was in a critical condition last night but doctors said the bullet had not entered her brain.

The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – the main faction of the home-grown Taliban – claimed responsibility for the assassination attempt and warned that it would target Malala again if she survived. Earlier this year, the TTP said the teenager was on its hitlist because of her "secular" views. A spokesman for the Taliban said yesterday: "She was young but she was promoting Western culture."

Malala had resisted the Taliban takeover of Swat with her diary – published in 2009 under a pseudonym by the BBC's Urdu language service. In it, she told the outside world what was happening in her home district. Early that year, with the Taliban menace still present, she spoke out on television, always sticking carefully to her demand only for schooling.

In one television appearance in Swat, with Taliban sympathisers apparently in the audience, she said: "I don't mind if I have to sit on the floor at school. All I want is education. And I am afraid of no one."

Malala said that her ambition was to become a politician because "this country is in crisis and our governments are lazy".

Despite relentless, violent attacks by the Pakistani Taliban since 2007, the public's views on the nature of the extremist movement are divided. Many people believe the Taliban are simply reacting to the government's support for the US presence in Afghanistan, and to missile attacks by US drone aircraft in tribal lands which are Taliban strongholds. At the weekend, Imran Khan, the cricketer turned populist politician, led a "peace march" to the edge of the tribal area, demanding that peace talks be opened with the Taliban, and calling for the end of US drone strikes.

But the attack on a schoolgirl could expose the wider agenda of the Pakistani Taliban, which is aimed at imposing medieval-style Islam on the country. Shocked by Malala's fate, politicians and the media united in strong condemnation. Hamid Mir, the country's most popular talk show host, began his programme last night with the words: "I can see the whole nation's head bowed in shame today I want to ask those who shot a girl, who only wanted to go to school, do you think you are Muslims?"

Speaking in parliament, the Prime Minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf, said: "Malala is my daughter too. She is Pakistan's daughter. If this [extremist] mindset persists, which girl in Pakistan will be safe?"

Swat, a mountainous area that was once known as a holiday resort and does not border Afghanistan, started to come under the creeping control of the Pakistani Taliban over several years from at least 2005. The extremists had completed their domination by 2007, while Pakistani authorities seemingly looked on.

In February 2009, the government, with the support of the military, signed a treaty with the Taliban that effectively handed it control of the Swat Valley.

It was only after international pressure, and the Taliban's decision to take over of the neighbouring district of Buner, that the military was forced to launch an operation in May 2009.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Twelve of the winning bidders will each host three group matches
football
Life and Style
Jack Cooksey goes for the grand unveiling - moments before dropping his new iPhone 6 on the floor
iphone launch
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Supply Teacher - Loughborough

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Are you a Teacher looking fo...

Primary General Cover Teachers

Negotiable: Randstad Education Leicester: Are you a Newly Qualified Teacher lo...

Part Time Primary Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Part Time Primary TeacherOur...

Science Technician

£7 - £8 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: The Job:School Science Technici...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week