Anger grows over Taliban shooting

Schools in Pakistan's Swat Valley have closed in protest as anger erupted across the country over the Taliban attack on a 14-year-old activist famed for promoting girls' education.

Malala Yousufzai was in the intensive care unit at a military hospital in Peshawar, recovering from surgery to remove a bullet from her neck a day after the attack.

The shooting of Malala on her way home from school in the town of Mingora in the volatile Swat Valley horrified Pakistanis across the religious, political and ethnic spectrum. A Taliban gunman walked up to a bus taking schoolchildren and shot her in the head and neck. Another girl on the bus was also wounded.

The country's top military officer, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, issued a strongly-worded statement condemning the attack. The powerful army chief rarely makes such public pronouncements, even when it comes to strictly military matters.

"In attacking Malala, the terrorists have failed to grasp that she is not only an individual, but an icon of courage and hope who vindicates the great sacrifices that the people of Swat and the nation gave, for wresting the valley from the scourge of terrorism," he said.

Malala is admired across Pakistan for exposing the Taliban's atrocities and advocating girls' education in the face of religious extremism.

She began writing a blog when she was just 11 under a pseudonym for the BBC about life under the Taliban, and began speaking out publicly in 2009 about the need for girls' education. The Taliban strongly opposes education for women, and the group has claimed responsibility for the Tuesday attack.

Private schools in the Swat Valley were closed in a sign of protest over the shooting and in solidarity with Malala. Flags in front of the Mingora government headquarters were at half-staff, and police officers stood guard outside her family's house.

The front pages of both English- and Urdu-language newspapers were plastered with stories and pictures of Malala. Television channels constantly replayed footage of her being taken to hospital as well as clips from previous appearances she had made while promoting girls' education.

Malala was nominated last year for the International Children's Peace Prize, which is organised by the Dutch organisation KidsRights to highlight the work of children around the world. She also was honoured last year with one of Pakistan's highest awards for civilians for her bravery.