ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — As pressure mounted on Pakistani police to track down militants behind last week’s assassination attempt of Malala Yousafzai, authorities confirmed Sunday the arrests of three brothers suspected of involvement in the attack on the 14-year-old Swat Valley girl.
Authorities have rounded up more than 100 people and detained them for questioning, though almost all were later released. Police took the three brothers into custody early Saturday after a raid on their house in Akbarpura, a small village outside of the northwest city of Peshawar.
The three men, Qari Inamullah, Obaid Ullah and Abdul Hadi, are originally from the Swat Valley, a picturesque tourist haven that was under control of Taliban insurgents until summer 2009, when the Pakistani army launched a large offensive to retake the territory. Authorities do not believe any of the three men were the gunmen who tried to kill Malala, but they would not discuss what role the men may have played.
“Investigations are in the very early stage,” said Iftikhar Hussain, information minister for Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the province where Swat Valley is located.
Malala was 11 when she rose to prominence in early 2009, blogging for the BBC Urdu Service about living under Taliban rule. The Taliban had taken over much of the valley a year earlier, imposing their will by blowing up schools, banning girls from getting an education, and forcing men to grow long beards. Malala defiantly advocated girls education in her blog entries, and detailed the atrocities committed by Taliban fighters.
Last Tuesday, she was in a van heading home from school in Mingora, Swat’s largest city, when two gunmen on a motorcycle forced the van to stop. One of the men boarded the van and asked the girls inside which of them was Malala. The girls didn’t answer, but the gunman fired his pistol at Malala, hitting her in the head. Two other girls were also shot — one of them remains in critical condition, and the other was not seriously hurt.
The attack generated a wave of outrage both in Pakistan and the rest of the world. Thousands of Pakistanis have been attending rallies across the country, praying for Malala’s recovery and denouncing the Pakistani Taliban, a homegrown insurgency responsible for waves of suicide bombings and other terrorist acts in recent years. Another large rally denouncing the Taliban was held Sunday in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and its commercial capital. The Muttahida Quami Movement, the party in control of government in Karachi, organized the rally.
Doctors say Malala’s condition is serious but improving. Last week, surgeons removed the bullet that had struck her temple and lodged in her neck. The United Arab Emirates has supplied Pakistan with an aircraft equipped with medical equipment that can be used to transport her to Dubai, but no decision has been made yet on whether she will be flown there for further treatment.
The wing of the Pakistani Taliban believed to be behind the attack is the Swat Taliban, led by Maulana Fazlullah. He escaped the offensive in 2009 and is now believed to be hiding in eastern Afghanistan. Two of Fazlullah’s top aides, Ataullah and Hamdullah, are suspected of masterminding the attack on Malala, say Pakistani government sources, who asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak to the media.
— Alex Rodriguez in Islamabad, Pakistan and Zulfiqar Ali in Peshawar.
Photo: Women with the Pakistan Sunni Tehreek, or PST, protest Sunday in Islamabad, Pakistan, over the attack on 14-year-old schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai, who was shot last Tuesday, reportedly by a wing of the Pakistani Taliban. Credit: Anjum Naveed / Associated Press.