ISLAMABAD — Schools shut their doors in protest and Pakistanis across the country held vigils Wednesday to pray for a 14-year-old girl who was shot by a Taliban gunman after daring to advocate education for girls and criticize the militant group.
The shooting of Malala Yousufzai on Tuesday in the town of Mingora in the volatile Swat Valley horrified Pakistanis across the religious, political and ethnic spectrum. Many in the country hoped the attack and the outrage it has sparked will be a turning point in Pakistan’s long-running battle against the Taliban, which still enjoys considerable public support for fighting U.S. forces in neighboring Afghanistan.
Top U.S. officials condemned the attack and offered to help the girl.
A Taliban gunman walked up to a bus taking children home from school and shot Malala in the head and neck. Another girl on the bus was also wounded. Pictures of the vehicle showed bloodstained seats where the girls were sitting.
Malala appeared to be out of immediate danger after doctors operated on her early Wednesday to remove a bullet lodged in her neck. But she remained in intensive care at a hospital in the northwestern city of Peshawar, and Pakistan’s Interior Minister said the next 48 hours would be crucial.
Small rallies and prayer sessions were held for her in Mingora, the eastern city of Lahore, the southern port city of Karachi and the capital of Islamabad.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton praised the young Pakistani girl.
“She was attacked and shot by extremists who don’t want girls to have an education and don’t want girls to speak for themselves, and don’t want girls to become leaders,” she said.
Malala is admired across Pakistan for exposing the Taliban’s atrocities and advocating girls’ education in the face of religious extremism.
At the age of 11, she began writing a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC about life under the Taliban in the Swat Valley. After the military ousted the militants in 2009, she began publicly speaking out about the need for girls’ education, something the Taliban strongly opposes.
The group claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attack and vowed to target her again.
Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said authorities have identified her attackers and know how they got into the valley, but no arrests have been made.
Printed on Thursday, October 11, 2012 as: Shooting sparks outrage