ISLAMABAD Doctors treating a 14-year-old girl shot in the head by Islamist militants because she dared to advocate schooling for girls said Wednesday that they hoped she would make a full recovery from her wounds after nightlong surgery to remove the bullet.
Pakistan rallied around the girl, Malala Yousafzai, who had become a national heroine in 2009 for defying the Pakistani Taliban's rule in the tourist district of Swat.
Prayer vigils were held throughout the country, television channels gave blanket and emotional coverage to developments, and politicians across the spectrum denounced the shooting.
Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, arguably the country's most powerful official, made an unusual trip to be at Yousafzai's bedside.
Yousafzai's attackers were unrepentant, however, with Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan issuing a detailed and chilling justification for the assault, which targeted the girl as she sat in a van waiting to be taken home from school Tuesday afternoon.
Relying on references to the Quran, Islamic history and Shariah Islamic law the statement, in English and containing eccentric capitalizations, misspellings and grammatically awkward phrases, left no doubt about the wide gulf that separates the Taliban from the mainstream of Pakistani thought.
"It's a clear command of Shariah that any female that by any means plays (a) role in war against mujahideen (holy warriors) should be killed," part of the statement said.
Yousafzai gained fame as an 11-year-old in 2009 when she defied the Islamist militants who then governed her hometown, Mingora, first in a diary that became the basis for a series of reports on life under the Taliban carried by the BBC's local Urdu language service, and then in television appearances in which she decried the Taliban's efforts to limit schooling for girls.
The Taliban had seized control of Swat, the district where Mingora is located, in 2007. The Pakistan army launched an offensive in 2009 that supposedly pushed the Taliban out of Swat.
On Tuesday, an assailant approached a school van loaded with children and asked which one was Yousafzai. When another student pointed her out, the assailant opened fire.
Yousafzai was taken by helicopter to a military hospital in the provincial capital, Peshawar, where doctors operated through the night after she developed swelling in her brain. They removed a bullet lodged close to her spinal cord, doctors told reporters, and she was placed in intensive care, still unconscious.
Two other girls were injured in the attack, one of whom reportedly was in critical condition.
Police arrested the driver of the school van and a school security guard, along with dozens of others, but those detentions appeared to be a general roundup, rather than a breakthrough in the case.