By Alex Rodriguez and Zulfiqar Ali, Los Angeles Times –
ISLAMABAD — As pressure mounted on Pakistani police to track down militants behind last week’s assassination attempt on Malala Yousafzai, authorities confirmed on Sunday the arrests of three brothers suspected of involvement in the attack on the 14-year-old advocate of education for girls.
Police took the three brothers into custody early Saturday after a raid on their house in Akbarpura, a small village outside the northwestern city of Peshawar. The arrests came after authorities had detained more than 100 people for questioning, though almost all were released.
The three men, Qari Inamullah, Obaid Ullah and Abdul Hadi, are originally from the Swat Valley, a tourist haven under control of Taliban insurgents until the summer of 2009, when the Pakistani army retook the territory. Authorities do not believe any of the three men were the gunmen who tried to kill Malala, but they would not discuss what role the men may have played.
“Investigations are in the very early stage,” said Iftikhar Hussain, information minister for Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, where Swat Valley is located.
Malala was 11 when she rose to prominence in early 2009, blogging for the BBC Urdu Service about living under Taliban rule. The Taliban had taken over much of the valley a year earlier, imposing its will by blowing up schools, banning girls from getting an education, and forcing men to grow long beards. Malala defiantly advocated for girls education in her blog entries, and detailed the atrocities committed by Taliban fighters in Swat.
Last Tuesday, she was in a van heading home from school in Mingora, Swat’s largest city, when gunmen on a motorcycle forced the vehicle to stop. One of the men boarded the van and asked the girls inside which of them was Malala. The girls didn’t answer, but the gunman fired his pistol at Malala, hitting her in the head. Two other girls were also shot — one of them remains in critical condition, and the other was not seriously hurt.
The attack generated a wave of outrage in Pakistan and beyond. Thousands of Pakistanis have been attending rallies across the country, praying for Malala’s recovery and denouncing the Pakistani Taliban, a home-grown insurgency responsible for waves of suicide bombings and other terrorist acts in recent years. Another large rally was held Sunday in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and its commercial capital. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the party in control of government in Karachi, organized the gathering.
Doctors say Malala’s condition is serious but improving. Last week, surgeons removed the bullet that had struck her temple and lodged in her neck. The United Arab Emirates has supplied Pakistan with an aircraft carrying medical equipment that can be used to transport her to Dubai, but no decision has been made on whether she will be flown there for further treatment.
The wing of the Pakistani Taliban believed to be behind the attack is the Swat Taliban, led by Maulana Qazi Fazlullah. He escaped the offensive in 2009 and is believed to be hiding in eastern Afghanistan. Two of Fazlullah’s top aides, Ataullah and Hamdullah, are suspected of masterminding the attack on Malala, Pakistani government sources said on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.