Pakistani Police Detain Family of Suspect in Attack on Girl
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistani security forces have detained the family of a man accused of attacking Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl who became an icon of resistance against Taliban oppression and who is now being treated at a British hospital, neighbors of the man’s family said on Thursday.
The authorities in the Swat Valley, where the attack happened on Oct. 9, said they were still searching for the man who shot Ms. Yousafzai and wounded two other girls on a school bus. The suspect has been identified as a member of the Pakistani Taliban named Attaullah, and the authorities are seeking an accomplice as well.
One senior provincial official said Attaullah had been arrested before, on suspicion of militant activity during a military operation in 2009 in Swat, in northwestern Pakistan, but was freed because of a lack of evidence. “Then we got to know that he was back in Swat and was planning some mischief,” the official said.
At Attaullah’s family home in Sangota, a hillside hamlet four miles from Mingora, the valley’s main town, neighbors said that the security forces had detained his brother-in-law, an uncle and a brother — a common tactic employed by the police to force a fugitive to surrender.
One relative said that one of the detainees, Attaullah’s 18-year-old brother Ehsanullah, had been picked up over a month ago — suggesting that the Taliban fugitive was being sought long before Ms. Yousafzai was shot.
The other two men, one of whom is a driving instructor from Mingora named Abdul Haleem, were picked up after the attack on Ms. Yousafzai. News reports said they were accused of sheltering the militant for a night.
Attaullah, meanwhile, is widely believed to have fled to Afghanistan, where most of the Swat Taliban, including their leader, Maulana Fazlullah, have been based for several years, in the eastern provinces of Kunar and Nuristan.
Pakistani news reports have said that Mr. Fazlullah, a ruthless militant also known as Mullah Radio because he once ran a private FM station, personally ordered the attack on Ms. Yousafzai, whose advocacy of girls’ education and criticism of the Taliban annoyed the militants.
In Afghanistan, Mr. Fazlullah is also a target of American and NATO troops, although Pakistani officials accuse the Afghan intelligence services of quietly supporting him, ostensibly as payback for Pakistani tolerance of Afghan militants farther west along the porous border.
In the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Thursday, President Hamid Karzai told reporters that he hoped the attack on Ms. Yousafzai would demonstrate to “our brothers and sisters” in Pakistan that “using extremism as a tool against others is not in the interest of Pakistan.”
Speaking at a joint news conference with the NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Mr. Karzai called on Pakistan to join him in an “honest” war against Islamist militancy.
Ms. Yousafzai suffered a severe head injury in the Oct. 9 attack and is being treated at the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Birmingham, which specializes in trauma. Hospital officials said Thursday that she had “continued to impress doctors by responding well to her care.”
Ms. Yousafzai has been widely reported as being 14 years old. However, the register at her school in Mingora lists her birth date as July 12, 1997, which makes her 15. The discrepancy has been reported by National Public Radio.
Her plight has set off an outpouring of international concern and sympathy, attracting tributes from movie and music stars and world leaders. In Pakistan, however, the mood has swung back and forth.
Initially, Pakistanis united in a wave of revulsion against the Taliban, which boldly claimed responsibility for the attack and vowed to shoot Ms. Yousafzai again if she survived.
That sense of purpose led to speculation that the army would leverage public anger to mount a major assault on the Taliban stronghold of North Waziristan, in the tribal belt — a longstanding demand of the Obama administration.
But in recent days, Ms. Yousafzai’s case has become politicized, with right-wing politicians circulating doctored images suggesting that she is an American government agent.
A government-sponsored parliamentary motion that condemned the attack on her and also mentioned a possible military operation has met with trenchant opposition from the main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N.
“Malala’s plight has touched a lot of people,” said Ayaz Amir, an outspoken opposition parliamentarian and an opinion columnist. “But remember, you are dealing with a very confused society. Our foreign adventures in Afghanistan and our religion have distorted the way we see things.”
Still, the searing public criticism has apparently shaken the Pakistani Taliban, who have threatened to attack local and foreign journalists and on Monday published a long screed outlining its justification for the attack. Religious scholars denounced the Taliban’s use of Islamic scripture to back its case.
Elsewhere in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, fighting raged between government forces and Taliban fighters on Thursday. Near the provincial capital, Peshawar, fighter jets pounded suspected militant positions, killing 10 people, officials said.
The strikes occurred in a district where Islamist militants killed seven police officers, two of whom were beheaded after being shot, earlier this week.