10 Men Who Plotted Malala Yousafzai's Death Jailed

by Kirsten O'Regan

Local media reports say that a Pakistani court has jailed 10 men involved in Malala Yousafzai’s shooting. Yousafzai, an education activist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, was just 15 when she was shot in the head aboard her school bus in Pakistan’s Swat valley in 2012. Yousafzai — who was left seriously injured by the attack — championed girls’ education from a young age, although the Pakistani Taliban claimed to have targeted her because she was maligning their insurgents. Ten men who helped to plan the attack were sentenced to life in prison Wednesday.

The men, members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), were initially detained in early 2014, according to intelligence officials, but the news was kept confidential until September last year. The group’s capture was the result of a series of intelligence-led operations, The Guardian reported. Yousafzai came to prominence after writing a blog for the BBC under a pseudonym in 2009, detailing her struggles to become educated under Taliban rule. That year, she was also the subject of a documentary, which profiled her after the Taliban closed her school.

The attack, on Oct. 9, 2012, was intended to kill Yousafzai, but instead left her with serious head injuries. She survived after emergency care at Pakistani army facilities, followed by surgery and rehabilitation in England, at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth II Hospital. Now 17 and recovered from her injuries, she lives in Birmingham with her family. In 2014, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her courageous campaign for women and children’s rights.

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On Wednesday, an anti-terrorism court in Swat — the remote northern region where Yousafzai spent her childhood — finally sentenced 10 men for her attack. Interestingly, the chief suspect, named as 23-year-old militant Ataullah Khan in the police report at the time of the shooting, did not appear on the list of condemned men, according to BBC. The sentencing comes nearly three years after the attack was carried out.

As The Washington Post highlights, the Pakistani authorities have been criticized for the length of their investigation. Pakistani political scientist Hasan-Askari Rizvi, already frustrated in 2012, told The Daily Beast at that time:

This is a routine problem in Pakistan. We don’t have proper investigations, our prosecutors are ill-equipped to handle terrorism cases, and there is no system to protect witnesses so no one speaks up.

Rizvi also suggested that justice was slow because of underlying sympathy with Yousafzai’s attackers. “People don’t want to speak out against these people because they agree with their ideology,” he said, meaning, “many witnesses prefer to withhold evidence.”

According to The Independent, the four or five men who actually carried out the shooting were not among the 10 men sentenced Wednesday. "But certainly they had a role in the planning and execution of the assassination attempt on Malala," a police official said. The gunman who shot the schoolgirl is thought to have escaped into Afghanistan.

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Since the attack, Yousafzai has persevered with her schoolwork while making occasional appearances. In 2013, she released I Am Malala, a memoir co-written with journalist Christina Lamb. In the book, she writes, “I don’t want to be thought of as the ‘girl who was shot by the Taliban’ but the ‘girl who fought for education.’ This is the cause to which I want to devote my life.”

In 2014, the Nobel Peace Prize committee recognized that commitment. Justifying their selection, the committee wrote:

Despite her youth, Malala … has already fought for several years for the right of girls to education, and has shown by example that children and young people, too, can contribute to improving their own situations. This she has done under the most dangerous circumstances.

In her acceptance speech in Oslo, Norway, Yousafzai maintained her signature poise and good humor. “I had two options,” she said, about the attempt on her life, “one was to remain silent and wait to be killed, and the second was to speak up and then be killed. I chose the second one. I decided to speak up.”


This year, Time magazine honored her with a place on its annual list of the world’s most influential people. Listed in the “Icons” section, she was praised by fellow teenage education activist Mezon Almellehan as an inspiration. “Malala has shown that education is crucial for laying a foundation for girls and boys to have secure lives,” Almellehan wrote, adding that Yousafzai had proved “that all girls and boys can bring change to our world.”

Nevertheless, The Washington Post reported that Yousafzai’s legacy and her new life in England remain controversial and contested in Pakistan. “Some see her position as Western stooge only cemented,” Saim Saeed wrote in English-language Pakistani paper The Express Tribune in 2014. “Her well-wishers see her as a powerful force to both combat religious extremism as well as an advocate for women’s rights.”

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