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Gunmen in Pakistan shoot teenage advocate for girls' education

October 9, 2012 |  7:56 am

This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Gunmen in Pakistan’s Swat Valley opened fire Tuesday on a 14-year-old girl who won national acclaim for championing the cause of girls’ education in the country’s troubled northwest, injuring her and another girl as they sat in a school bus.

Malala Yousafzai has been hailed across the country as a symbol of defiance against the brutality of Taliban insurgents who had overrun Swat before a Pakistani military offensive retook the region in 2009.

Before the offensive, Yousafzai spoke out against Taliban destruction of girls’ schools in Swat and atrocities committed by the insurgent group’s fighters. In December, then-Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani awarded her the country’s National Peace Award for Youth.

Local authorities and witnesses said she was inside a school bus that was taking her and other girls home from their school in Mingora, Swat’s largest city, when gunmen on a motorcycle approached. The assailants stopped the bus, opened fire at Yousafzai, injuring her in the head and neck, and sped off.

Yousafzai was rushed to a local hospital, where doctors said her injuries were not life-threatening. The girl next to her was struck by two bullets but was not seriously injured, doctors said.

[Updated Oct. 9, 10:45 a.m.: Yousafzai was later taken to Peshawar’s combined military hospital, where doctors then described her condition as critical. A military official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the bullet went through her temple and struck her shoulder.]

A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attempt on Yousafzai’s life, saying she was targeted because she was speaking out against the group and encouraging girls to adopt Western norms.

President Asif Ali Zardari released a prepared statement condemning the attack.

“Young girls like Malala Yousafzai symbolize the quest for knowledge of the girls of Swat,” Zardari said in the statement, adding that militants “would never be able to shake the resolve of the nation through such dastardly acts.”

During the Taliban’s control of Swat, the militant group bombed or set fire to 230 of Swat’s 1,600 public and private school buildings. Girls’ education was especially targeted; Taliban-imposed edicts banned girls from attending school.

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-- Zulfiqar Ali in Peshawar and Alex Rodriguez on Islamabad

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