Pakistani surgeons yesterday removed a bullet from a 14-year-old girl shot by the Taliban, apparently for speaking out against the militants and promoting education for girls, doctors said.
Malala Yousufzai was in critical condition after gunmen shot her in the head and neck on Tuesday as she left school. Two other girls were also wounded.
Yousufzai began standing up to the Pakistani Taliban when she was just 11, when the government had effectively ceded control of the Swat Valley where she lives to the militants. Her courage made her a national hero and many Pakistanis were shocked by her shooting.
Doctors said they began operating at around 2am after Yousufzai developed swelling in the left portion of her brain. They removed a bullet from her body near her spinal cord and finished at around 5am.
“She is still unconscious and kept in the intensive care unit,” said Mumtaz Khan, head of a panel of doctors taking care of Yousufzai in a military hospital in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
The military flew Yousufzai from her home in Swat, northwest of Islamabad, to Peshawar on Tuesday.
The shooting was denounced across Pakistan. The front pages of national newspapers carried pictures of a bandaged and bloody Yousufzai being brought to hospital.
“Hate targets hope” the Express Tribune said in a headline.
Pakistan’s president, prime minister and heads of various opposition parties joined human rights group Amnesty International and the UN in condemning the attack.
“Pakistan’s future belongs to Malala and brave young girls like her. History won’t remember the cowards who tried to kill her at school,” US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said on Twitter.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying Yousufzai was “pro-West,” had been promoting Western culture and had been speaking out against them. They justified shooting her by citing instances from the Koran when a child or woman was killed.
“Any female that, by any means, plays a role in the war against mujahidin should be killed,” said Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan, using the term for Islamic holy warriors to refer to the Taliban. “We are dead against co-education and a secular education system.”
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said he had directed that Yousufzai be sent abroad for medical care.
A special aircraft had been sent to Peshawar in case doctors say she should be moved to the United Arab Emirates, said Zaibullah Khan, general manager of the city’s airport.
Imran Khan, a former cricketer turned politician who just led a march into northwestern Pakistan protesting against US drone strikes, said he was willing to pay for Yousufzai’s medical treatment in Pakistan or abroad.
“Brave girl. Praying for her recovery,” he said on Twitter.