Ninth grader Malala Yousafzai, who became an international symbol of courage and bravery for her diary penned for the BBC speaking out on childrens’ rights and girls’ education in Pakistan, earlier today paid a steep price for her outspokenness when the Taliban stopped her school bus and opened fire, hitting her in the neck.
Yousafzai is expected to survive the attack, which occurred when the bus was on its way home from school in Mingora in northwest Pakistan, according to authorities. She was taken to a military hospital in Peshawar. A seventh-grade girl also was shot in the leg, local police said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
Yousafzai first rose to prominence in through a diary about Taliban atrocities she wrote under a pen name for the BBC’s Urdu service. The Pakistani government awarded her a 1 million rupee ($10,500) prize and a peace award in 2011 for her bravery in raising her voice for children’s rights and girls’ education when few others in Pakistan dared to. She also was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2011.
The seventh-grader who was wounded in the leg said they were leaving school when the attack occurred.
“Two bearded armed men stopped our school van and asked for Malala and opened fire from behind the van,” the girl, named Shazia, said from the hospital where she and Yousafzai were first taken.
Ihsanullah Ihsan, chief spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, said in calls to the media that Yousafzai was targeted because she generated “negative propaganda” about Muslims.
“She considers President Obama as her ideal. Malala is the symbol of the infidels and obscenity,” Ihsan said.
In Swat, the area where the attach occurred, Taliban insurgents were in control until a massive military operation drove them out in May 2009, but sporadic attacks have continued in the area.
“We have to fight the mind-set that is involved in this. We have to condemn it,” Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf told the Pakistani Senate. “Malala is like my daughter and yours, too. If that mind-set prevails, then whose daughter would be safe?”
Yousafzai also is an advocate for literacy in the Swat valley. She started her diary when the Taliban banned girls’ education and bombed hundreds of schools, mostly those for girls, in Swat.
Her father, Zia Uddin Yousafzai, an educator and a member of Swat’s peace jirga, or tribal gathering, said she is doing “all right.”
“Please pray for her early recovery and health,” he said.
In her diary, Yousafzai wrote about her fears and growing Taliban influence. One morning, she wore her favorite pink dress. “During the morning assembly we were told not to wear colorful clothes as the Taliban would object to it,” she wrote.