A 15-year-old Pakistani boy is being hailed as the ‘new Malala’ and a hero after he died while foiling an attempted suicide attack on his northwest Pakistan school. Aitzaz Hasan was late for school on Monday when he saw the suicide bomber approaching Government High School. (According to the English-language Express Tribune newspaper, Hasan wasn’t allowed to attend the school assembly as a punishment for his tardiness.) As the attacker tried to flee, Hasan tackled him and was killed when the suicide bomber detonated.
The school, located in the village of Ibrahimzai in Hangu, is in a Shia Muslim-dominated region of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in northwest Pakistan, and had nearly 2,000 students in attendance at the time of the thwarted bombing. The students were the target of the attack, which was later claimed by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militant group.
Hasan’s heroic action has prompted an outpouring of grief, admiration, and Malala comparisons in Pakistan and across social media. On Twitter, the hashtags #AitzazBraveheart and #onemillionaitzaz are being used to honor the ninth-grader. Pakistan's prime minister announced Friday that Hasan will be honored with the nation's highest civil award of bravery.
“This courageous teenager attempted to battle death. What gave him this confidence? Outrage? Parenting? Faith? From the bloodletting terrorism in Pakistan are emerging uniquely inspiring and iconic individuals like Malala and now Aitzaz Hasan,” Nasim Zehra, a Pakistani news anchor, told the New York Times.
On Twitter, Zehra said that both Malala and Aitzaz are “phenomenal,” adding that the fact that children are heralded as heroes for fending off terrorists while trying to live regular lives as children “isn’t a preferred way of being [for] any society.”
The comparison to Malala illustrates the tragedy of the younger generation of Pakistanis having to stand up to militant groups. Malala, now a household name and an international symbol for the rights of girls to get an education, had a day named in her honor at the United Nations and delivered a speech there last summer. She recently published a book and now lives in United Kingdom with her family.
In the days after the attack, interviews with Hasan's family members make it clear that Pakistan's new hero was just a regular boy. Speaking to the AFP, Hasan's cousin said that the hero wanted to become a doctor, and was a excellent student. Bangash also said the family would call Aitzaz "pehlwan," which means wrestler, as he was "a little plump."
“My son made his mother cry, but saved hundreds of mothers from crying for their children,” Hasan’s father, Mujahid Ali, told the Express Tribune.