As Yousafzai became more recognized, the dangers facing her increased. Death threats against her were published in newspapers and slipped under her door. On Facebook, where she was an active user, she began to receive threats and fake profiles were created under her name. When none of this worked, a Taliban spokesman says they were "forced" to act. In a meeting held in the summer of 2012, Taliban leaders unanimously agreed to kill her.
I think of it often and imagine the scene clearly. Even if they come to kill me, I will tell them what they are trying to do is wrong, that education is our basic right.“ ” Malala Yousafzai envisioning a confrontation with the Taliban
On 9 October 2012, a Taliban gunman shot Yousafzai as she rode home on a bus after taking an exam in Pakistan's Swat Valley. The masked gunman shouted "Which one of you is Malala? Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all", and, on her being identified, shot at her. She was hit with one bullet, which went through her head, neck, and ended in her shoulder. Two other girls were also wounded in the shooting: Kainat Riaz and Shazia Ramzan, both of whom were stable enough to speak to reporters and provide details of the attack.
After the shooting, Yousafzai was airlifted to a military hospital in Peshawar, where doctors were forced to begin operating after swelling developed in the left portion of her brain, which had been damaged by the bullet when it passed through her head. After a five-hour operation, doctors successfully removed the bullet, which had lodged in her shoulder near her spinal cord. The day following the attack, doctors performed a decompressive craniectomy, in which part of the skull is removed to allow room for the brain to swell.
On 11 October 2012, a panel of Pakistani and British doctors decided to move Yousafzai to the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology in Rawalpindi. Mumtaz Khan, a doctor, said that she had a 70% chance of survival. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that Yousafzai would be shifted to Germany, where she could receive the best medical treatment, as soon as she was stable enough to travel. A team of doctors would travel with her, and the government would bear the expenditures of her treatment. Doctors reduced Yousafzai's sedation on 13 October, and she moved all four limbs.
Offers to treat Yousafzai came from around the world. On 15 October, Yousafzai traveled to the United Kingdom for further treatment, approved by both her doctors and family. Her plane landed in Abu Dhabi for refuelling and then continued to Birmingham, where she was treated at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, one of the specialties of this hospital being the treatment of military personnel injured in conflict. According to the UK Government "The Pakistani government is paying all transport, migration, medical, accommodation and subsistence costs for Malala and her party".
Yousafzai had come out of her coma by 17 October 2012, was responding well to treatment, and was said to have a good chance of fully recovering without any brain damage. Later updates on 20 and 21 October stated that she was stable, but was still battling an infection. By 8 November, she was photographed sitting up in bed.
On 3 January 2013, Yousafzai was discharged from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham to continue her rehabilitation at her family's temporary home in the West Midlands. She had a five-hour operation on 2 February to reconstruct her skull and restore her hearing, and was reported in stable condition.
Since March 2013, she has been a pupil at the all-girls' Edgbaston High School in Birmingham.
The assassination attempt received worldwide media coverage and produced an outpouring of sympathy and anger. Protests against the shooting were held in several Pakistani cities the day after the attack, and over 2 million people signed the Right to Education campaign's petition, which led to ratification of the first Right to Education Bill in Pakistan. Pakistani officials offered a 10 million rupee (US$105,000) reward for information leading to the arrest of the attackers. Responding to concerns about his safety, Yousafzai's father said, "We wouldn't leave our country if my daughter survives or not. We have an ideology that advocates peace. The Taliban cannot stop all independent voices through the force of bullets."
Pakistan's president Asif Ali Zardari described the shooting as an attack on "civilized people". UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called it a "heinous and cowardly act". U.S. President Barack Obama found the attack "reprehensible, disgusting and tragic", while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Yousafzai had been "very brave in standing up for the rights of girls" and that the attackers had been "threatened by that kind of empowerment". British Foreign Secretary William Hague called the shooting "barbaric" and that it had "shocked Pakistan and the world".
American singer Madonna dedicated her song "Human Nature" to Yousafzai at a concert in Los Angeles the day of the attack, as well had a temporary Malala tattoo on her back. American actress Angelina Jolie wrote an article about explaining the event to her children and answering questions like "Why did those men think they needed to kill Malala?" Jolie later donated $200,000 to The Malala Fund for girls education. Former First Lady of the United States Laura Bush wrote an op-ed piece in The Washington Post in which she compared Yousafzai to Holocaust diarist Anne Frank. Indian director Amjad Khan announced that he would be making a biographical film based on Malala Yousafzai.
Ehsanullah Ehsan, chief spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that Yousafzai "is the symbol of the infidels and obscenity," adding that if she survived, the group would target her again. In the days following the attack, the Taliban reiterated its justification, saying Yousafzai had been brainwashed by her father: "We warned him several times to stop his daughter from using dirty language against us, but he didn't listen and forced us to take this extreme step". The Taliban also justified its attack as part of religious scripture, stating that the Quran says that "people propagating against Islam and Islamic forces would be killed", going on to say that "Sharia says that even a child can be killed if he is propagating against Islam".
On 12 October 2012, a group of 50 Islamic clerics in Pakistan issued a fatwā – a ruling of Islamic law – against the Taliban gunmen who tried to kill Yousafzai. Islamic scholars from the Sunni Ittehad Council publicly denounced attempts by the Pakistani Taliban to mount religious justifications for the shooting of Yousafzai and two of her classmates.
Although the attack was roundly condemned in Pakistan, "some fringe Pakistani political parties and extremist outfits" have aired conspiracy theories, such as the shooting being staged by the American Central Intelligence Agency in order to provide an excuse for continuing drone attacks. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and some other pro-Taliban elements branded Yousafzai as an "American spy".
United Nations petition
On 15 October 2012, UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown, a former British Prime Minister, visited Yousafzai while she was in the hospital, and launched a petition in her name and "in support of what Malala fought for". Using the slogan "I am Malala", the petition's main demand was that there be no child left out of school by 2015, with the hope that "girls like Malala everywhere will soon be going to school". Brown said he would hand the petition to President Zardari in Islamabad in November.
The petition contains three demands:
- We call on Pakistan to agree to a plan to deliver education for every child.
- We call on all countries to outlaw discrimination against girls.
- We call on international organizations to ensure the world's 61 million out-of-school children are in education by the end of 2015.
The day after the shooting, Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik stated that the Taliban gunman who shot Yousafzai had been identified. Police named 23-year-old Atta Ullah Khan, a graduate student in chemistry, as the gunman in the attack. As of July 2013 he remains at large.
The police also arrested six men for involvement in the attack, but they were later released for lack of evidence. As of 7 November 2012, Mullah Fazlullah, the cleric who ordered the attack on Yousafzai, was confirmed to be hiding in Eastern Afghanistan by US sources there.
Capture of assassins
On 12 September 2014, ISPR Director, Major General Asim Bajwa, told a media briefing in Islamabad that the 10 attackers belong to a militant group called "Shura". General Bajwa said that Israrur Rehman was the first militant group member who was identified and apprehended by the troops. Acting upon the information received during his interrogation, all other members of the militant group were arrested. It was an intelligence-based joint operation conducted by ISI, police, and military.
In April 2015, the ten who were arrested were sentenced to life in prison by Judge Mohammad Amin Kundi, a counterterrorism judge, with the chance of eligibility for parole, and possible release, after 25 years. It is not known if the actual would-be assassins were among the ten sentenced.
In June 2015, it was revealed that eight of the ten men tried in-camera for the attack had in fact been secretly acquitted. The information came to light after the London Daily Mirror attempted to locate the men in prison.