(ISLAMABAD) — In an attack drawing widespread condemnation, a lone Taliban gunman Tuesday approached a crowded school bus in Pakistan’s once-volatile Swat region and opened fire. His target: A 14-year-old girl who’d campaigned against the Taliban for the right to go to school.
Television footage showed Malala Yousafzai lying on a stretcher and being airlifted to a military hospital in Peshawar. The gunman approached the bus and asked whether anyone could identify Malala, according to local police.
When one of her schoolmates singled out the teen, the gunman shot her twice, including once in the head. He also shot the girl who identified Malala before fleeing.
Malala is in serious condition, while the other girl’s condition is unknown.
A Taliban spokesman has claimed responsibility, referring to her campaign for the right to go to school as an “obscenity.”
The Pakistani Taliban are an offshoot of the insurgency movement in Afghanistan that operates along the lawless tribal belt that straddles the Afghan-Pakistan border. They share the same ideology as their Afghan counterparts, but focus their attacks mainly on pro-Western targets inside Pakistan.
Malala’s courageous and public stance against the Taliban has earned her widespread acclaim, including being nominated last year for the International Children’s Peace Prize.
“This was a shocking act of violence against a 14-year girl who has bravely been fighting for her right to education,” Amnesty International said in a statement. “This attack highlights the extremely dangerous climate human rights activists face in north-western Pakistan, where particularly female activists live under constant threats from the Taliban and other militant groups.”
Malala’s rise to prominence began in 2009, when she wrote a diary for BBC Urdu under a pseudonym chronicling the oppression she and other girls at her school faced at the hands of the Taliban. At the time, the Taliban had ordered the closure of all girls schools in the region.
Her father, who ran a private school, was forced to comply, leaving Malala and her friends with nowhere to study. In all, 50,000 girls were forced out of school in a matter of days.
In one blog post titled “Do not wear colourful dresses,” Malala wrote about not wearing school uniforms, to avoid being detected by the Taliban.
“My friend came to me and said, ‘For God’s sake, answer me honestly, is our school going to be attacked by the Taleban [sic]?’ During the morning assembly we were told not to wear colourful clothes as the Taleban would object to it.”
Taliban militants first began flooding into Swat in 2007, forcing men to grow beards, prohibiting women from going to bazaars, and whipping and executing anyone accused of so-called immoral crimes.
Later, as the Pakistani military undertook an offensive to root out the Taliban from Swat valley — a picturesque area 100 miles from the capital known for its lush green fields and waterfalls — The New York times produced a two-part documentary chronicling her exile, and later, the family’s return to what’s left of their home.
Responding to Tuesday’s attack, Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf said in a statement: “We have to fight the mindset that is involved in this. We have to condemn it.
“Malala is like my daughter, and yours too. If that mindset prevails, then whose daughter would be safe?”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Paul Cruickshank and Michael Pearson, CNN