NEW: About 100 are arrested for allegedly "colluding" with the shooters, foreign minister says
"It could be ... a turning point" in Pakistan's fight against extremists, she adds
The blogger, Malala Yousufzai, is still in critical condition after Tuesday's attack
The Taliban vow to kill the well-known Pakistani teenager if she survives
Pakistan’s foreign minister on Thursday called the attempted assassination of a teenage activist who pushed against extremists and in support of women’s rights and education “a wake-up call (to) a clear-and-present danger.”
Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar spoke to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour two days after Malala Yousufzai, 14, was gunned down as she headed home from school in Pakistan’s conservative Swat Valley. The girl was in critical condition Thursday at a military hospital outside Islamabad after surgeons removed a bullet lodged in her neck.
The Taliban have claimed responsibility for targeting Malala, who enraged the militant group by writing about her daily battle with extremists who used fear and intimidation to force girls to stay at home instead of going to school. Malala’s online writing earned her Pakistan’s first National Peace Prize in November.
The Taliban have vowed to kill the teenager if she survives.
According to Khar, people in Pakistan and all over the world must confront those “who choose to use violence … to follow whatever they consider to be their agenda.” While noting Pakistan’s previous military efforts in the Swat Valley, the foreign minister said the teenage girl’s shooting may force even more decisive action between two scenarios – one that includes rights for women as represented by Malala and “the other … trying to be imposed by this particular band (of) extremists.”
“Today, for (Pakistan), it could be, possibly be a turning point,” she said. “I would keep my fingers crossed on that.”
Malala is suffering from severe cerebral edema, or swelling of the brain, said Lt. Col. Junaid Khan, the head of neurosurgery at the Peshawar hospital.
Her uncle, Faiz Muhammad, said his niece hadn’t been conscious or responsive in the more than 24 hours after the surgery to remove the bullet.
Muhammad, who is at the hospital with Malala, said the family is “very worried” about her condition.
“We are counting on all the prayers of the nation,” he said. “The prayers are with us, so, God willing, everything is going to be fine.”
When Taliban gunmen stopped the van carrying Malala and two other girls Tuesday, they asked which one was Malala Yousufzai. When the girls pointed her out, the men fired, striking all three girls. The two others were not seriously injured in the attack.
A day later, police took the van driver and another person into custody for questioning. They said they had identified the culprits, but had been arrested.
Khar added Thursday that there’s been significant law enforcement activity beyond that, saying about 100 people have been arrested on suspicions of “colluding” with the attackers. The foreign minister noted, too, that Pakistani authorities offered additional protection prior to the shooting, but Malala’s family had turned it down.
The Taliban itself issued a statement Thursday defending the attempted killing on religious grounds, saying anyone who “campaigns against Islam and Sharia (Muslim law) is ordered to be killed by Sharia.”
The Taliban denied targeting the teen activist because of her demands for an education.
“That’s absolutely wrong, and a propaganda of media,” the group said. “Malala is targeted because of her pioneer role in preaching secularism and so-called enlightened moderation.”
The Taliban accused Malala of “playing a vital role in bucking up” the Pakistani government and “inviting Muslims to hate mujahedeen.”
Khar, Pakistan’s foreign minister, said Malala’s shooting – and the Taliban’s justification for it – has been “rejected by all Pakistanis.”
The assassination attempt has also stirred furor abroad.
Former U.S. first lady Laura Bush, for instance, hailed Malala as an inspiration.
“We must speak up before these acts occur, work to ensure that they do not happen again, and keep our courage to continue to resist the ongoing cruelty and barbarism of the Taliban,” Bush said, writing in the Washington Post on Wednesday. “Malala Yousufzai refused to look the other way. We owe it to her courage and sacrifice to do the same.”
The singer Madonna said, during a Wednesday night concert in Los Angeles, that Malala’s story made her cry and exclaimed, “Support education! Support women!” As she performed a striptease, Madonna “turned her back to the audience to reveal the name ‘Malala’ stenciled across it,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.
“This song is for you, Malala,” she said, and then sang “Human Nature.”
Malala wrote about her life in Swat Valley, a hotbed of militant activity.
The valley near the Afghanistan border once attracted tourists to Pakistan’s only ski resort, as well as visitors to the ancient Buddhist ruins in the area. But that was before militants – their faces covered with dark turbans – unleashed a wave of violence.
They demanded veils for women, beards for men and a ban on music and television. They allowed boys’ schools to operate but closed those for girls.
It was in this climate that Malala reached out to the outside world through her blog posts.
“I have the right of education,” Malala said in a CNN interview last year. “I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk. I have the right to go to market. I have the right to speak up.”
Malala also encouraged other young people to take a stand against the Taliban – and to not hide in their bedrooms. “God will ask you on the day of judgment where were you when your people were asking you, when your school fellows were asking you, and when your school was asking you (why) I am being blown up.”
Mian Iftikhar Hussein, Swat Valley’s provincial information minister, said he was declaring a bounty of $100,000 for the capture of the culprits in the attempt on Malala’s life.
CNN’s Shaan Khan, and journalists Aamir Iqbal and Noreen Shams contributed to this report.