.- A Catholic bishop in Pakistan has voiced “sympathy and solidarity” towards Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old Muslim activist critically injured by Taliban gunmen who said they shot her for her advocacy of girls’ education and Western culture.
“Every person has a sacred right to life and education,” Bishop Rufin Anthony of Islamabad-Rawalpindi told Fides news agency Oct. 10. “God created man in his own image; every life is precious and belongs to Him alone.”
On Oct. 9 masked gunmen singled out and shot Yousafzai on a bus of schoolchildren in Pakistan’s northwestern Swat Valley near the Afghanistan border. She was in stable condition at a hospital in Peshawar, where doctors removed a bullet that passed through her head and stopped in her shoulder.
Pakistan army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited the unconscious girl in the hospital and denounced the attack.
“The cowards who attacked Malala and her fellow students have shown time and again how little regard they have for human life and how low they can fall in their cruel ambition to impose their twisted ideology,” he said, according to the BBC.
Two other girls were injured, one of whom was still in critical condition as of Wednesday evening.
Pakistan officials have offered a 10 million rupee award, about $105,000, for information leading to the arrest of Yousafzai’s attackers.
The group Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan said through spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan that its members committed the attack and “successfully targeted” her “although she was young and a girl and the TTP does not believe in attacking women.”
Its Oct. 10 letter accused the girl of being “pro-West,” opposing Taliban militants, and being part of a campaign against Islam and Shariah law.
The group said it is “deadly against co-education and a secular education system, and Shariah orders us to be against it,” Radio Free Europe reports.
The shooting sparked anti-Taliban protests in several Pakistan cities.
Yousafzai began writing a diary for BBC Urdu in 2009 about life under the Taliban, which had captured the Swat Valley in 2007, imposed a strict version of Islamic law, and closed girls’ schools. The Taliban were driven out by Pakistan’s military in 2009.
Muslim activist Tahira Abdullah told Fides that the Taliban is a threat to its opponents.
“Whoever speaks against religious extremism and Talibanization of the country is not safe in Pakistan,” she said. “Talibans are not only in the tribal areas but they are everywhere, and human rights activists are in danger.”
“We ask the government to punish the perpetrators of the attack, to ensure the protection of women and minorities, to protect the life and dignity of all citizens, as required by the Constitution.”
Anglican pastor Rev. Samuel Gill, who cares for 50 Christian families in the Swat Valley and another 50 families in Malakand, told Fides he has not noticed any dangers for Christians but they “live in uncertainty.”
“Malala was the victim of a targeted killing that may affect anyone, Christian or Muslim, who does not share the ideology of the Taliban,” he said.