ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan airlifted a wounded teenage activist shot by the Taliban to the United Kingdom on Monday for more specialized medical care and to protect her from follow-up attacks threatened by the militants.
The attack on 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai as she was returning home from school in Pakistan’s northwest a week ago has horrified people across the country and abroad. It has also sparked hope the government would respond by intensifying its fight against the Taliban and their allies.
Malala was targeted by the Taliban for promoting girls’ education and criticizing the militant group’s behaviour when they took over the scenic Swat Valley where she lived. Two of her classmates were also wounded in the attack and are receiving treatment in Pakistan.
The Taliban have threatened to target Malala again until she is killed because she promotes “Western thinking.”
Malala was flown out of Pakistan on Monday morning in a specially equipped air ambulance provided by the United Arab Emirates, said the Pakistani military, which has been treating the young girl at one of its hospitals.
Video footage handed out by the military showed Malala being wheeled out of the hospital on a stretcher, covered in a white sheet and surrounded by uniformed army officers. She was placed in the back of an ambulance and driven to the airport, where she was put on a plane.
A panel of doctors recommended that Malala be shifted to a centre in the United Kingdom that has the ability to provide “integrated” care to children who have sustained severe injuries, said a military statement.
“It was agreed by the panel of Pakistani doctors and international experts that Malala will require prolonged care to fully recover from the physical and psychological effects of trauma that she has received,” the military said.
The plane stopped for several hours in the Emirati capital of Abu Dhabi on the way to the United Kingdom, said the Pakistani Ambassador to the UAE Jamil Ahmed Khan. The ambassador visited Malala during the stop and said she appeared to be in stable condition. Her parents were not on the plane with her, he said.
Malala will be treated at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham in central England, a centre which has specialized in the treatment of troops wounded in Afghanistan, said British Prime Minister David Cameron’s office.
“The UK stands shoulder to shoulder with Pakistan in its fight against terrorism,” said British Foreign Secretary William Hague in a statement sent to reporters. “Malala’s bravery in standing up for the right of all young girls in Pakistan to an education is an example to us all.”
Pakistani doctors at a military hospital earlier removed a bullet from Malala’s body that entered her head and headed toward her spine. The military has described her recovery as satisfactory and said she was able to move her legs and hands several days ago when her sedatives were reduced. They have not said whether she suffered any brain damage or other permanent damage.
On Monday, the military said damaged bones in Malala’s skull will need to be repaired or replaced, and she will need “intensive neuro rehabilitation.” The decision to send the girl abroad was taken in consultation with her family, and the Pakistani government will pay for her treatment.
Pakistanis have held rallies for Malala throughout the country, but most have only numbered a few hundred people. The largest show of support by far occurred Sunday when tens of thousands of people held a demonstration in the southern party city of Karachi organized by the most powerful political party in the city, the Muttahida Quami Movement.
Late Sunday night, over 100 Taliban militants attacked a police station in the small town of Matni, 20 kilometres (12 miles) south of the main northwest city of Peshawar. The heavily armed militants killed six policemen, including two who were beheaded, said police officer Ishrat Yar.
The police engaged the militants in a gunbattle that lasted for several hours, but the insurgents escaped after burning the police station and four police vehicles, said Yar.
One of the policemen who was beheaded was a senior official who commanded several police stations in the area and was leading reinforcements against the attack, said Yar. Another 12 policemen received gunshot wounds.
A Pakistani Taliban spokesman, Mohammad Afridi, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the police were targeted because they had killed several militants.
The Taliban have carried out hundreds of attacks throughout Pakistan but the attacks rarely include such a high number of militants as in the assault on the police station in Matni.
Khan reported from Peshawar, Pakistan. Associated Press writers Asif Shahzad in Islamabad, Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan, Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, and David Stringer in London contributed to this report.