ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- The 14-year-old Swat girl shot by Taliban gunmen because of her advocacy for girls' education is being flown to Britain for treatment likely to include surgery to repair damage to her skull and neurological rehabilitation, the Pakistani military said Monday.
Malala Yousafzai is being transported in an aircraft equipped with specialized medical equipment and supplied by the United Arab Emirates. Pakistani doctors in consultation with international medical experts concluded that “Malala will require prolonged care to fully recover from the physical and psychological effects of trauma that she has received,” according to a statement issued by the Pakistani military.
Malala’s family was consulted before the decision was made to transport her to Britain, the statement said.
The bullet pierced her left temple, causing damage to her skull, and lodged near her spine, Pakistani military officials have said. Doctors told Pakistani media last week that she did not suffer any significant brain damage. They have described her condition as serious but improving. Last week, surgeons removed the bullet from her neck.
“It was the view that if Malala was going to be transferred overseas to a center which could provide the required integrated care, then it should be during this time window, while her condition was optimal and before any unforeseen complications had set in,” the statement said.
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 its will by blowing up schools, banning girls from getting an education and forcing men to grow long beards. Yousafzai defiantly advocated girls' education in her blog entries, and detailed the atrocities committed by Taliban fighters in Swat.
Last Tuesday, she was in a van heading home from school in Mingora, Swat’s largest city, when 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.
As pressure mounted on Pakistani police to track down militants behind last week’s attempt on Malala's life, authorities confirmed on Sunday the arrests of three brothers suspected of involvement in the attack.
Authorities have rounded up more than 100 people and detained them for questioning, though most were later released. Police took the three brothers into custody early Saturday after a raid on their house in Akbarpura, a small village outside the northwestern city of Peshawar.
The three men, Qari Inamullah, Obaid Ullah and Abdul Hadi, are originally from the Swat Valley, a picturesque tourist haven under the control of Taliban insurgents until the summer of 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 Yousafzai, 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.
The attack generated a wave of outrage in Pakistan and beyond. Thousands of Pakistanis have been attending rallies across the country, praying for Malala’s recovery and denouncing the Pakistani Taliban, a home-grown 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 Qaumi Movement, the party in control of government in Karachi, organized the rally.
The wing of the Pakistani Taliban believed to be behind the attack is the Swat Taliban, led by Maulana Qazi Fazlullah. He escaped the offensive in 2009 and is 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 and special correspondent Zulfiqar Ali in Peshawar.
Photo: Supporters of coalition party Muttahida Qaumi Movement listen to a speech about Malala Yousafzal in Karachi, Pakistan. Credit: Rehan Khan / European Pressphoto Agency