ISLAMABAD — Pakistan airlifted a 14-year-old activist who was shot and seriously wounded by the Taliban to the United Kingdom for treatment Monday, a move that will give her access to the specialized medical care she needs to recover and also protect her from follow-up attacks threatened by the militants.
The attack on Malala Yousufzai as she was returning home from school in Pakistan's northwest a week ago has horrified people both across the country and abroad. It has also sparked hope the government would respond by intensifying its fight against the Taliban and their allies.
Over 100 Taliban militants attacked a police station near the main northwest city of Peshawar late Sunday night, sparking a gunbattle that lasted several hours, police said. Six policemen were killed during the clash, including two who were beheaded.
Malala was targeted by the Taliban for promoting girls' education and criticizing the militant group. Two of Malala's classmates were also wounded in the attack and are receiving treatment in Pakistan.
The Taliban said they attacked Malala because she was promoting "Western thinking" and have threatened to target her again until she is killed.
Malala was flown out of Pakistan on Monday morning in a specially equipped air ambulance provided by the United Arab Emirates, said the Pakistani military, which has been treating the young girl at one of its hospitals.
Video footage handed out by the military showed Malala being wheeled out of the hospital on a stretcher, covered in a white sheet and surrounded by uniformed army officers. She was placed in the back of an ambulance and driven to the airport, where she was put on a plane.
A panel of doctors recommended that Malala be shifted to a center in the United Kingdom that has the ability to provide "integrated" care to children who have sustained severe injuries, said a military statement.
"It was agreed by the panel of Pakistani doctors and international experts that Malala will require prolonged care to fully recover from the physical and psychological effects of trauma that she has received," the military said.
The plane stopped for several hours in the Emirati capital of Abu Dhabi on the way to the United Kingdom, said the Pakistani Ambassador to the UAE Jamil Ahmed Khan. The ambassador visited Malala during the stop and said she appeared to be in stable condition. Her parents were not on the plane with her, he said.
Malala will be treated at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham in central England, a center which has specialized in the treatment of troops wounded in Afghanistan, said British Prime Minister David Cameron's office.
"The UK stands shoulder to shoulder with Pakistan in its fight against terrorism," said British Foreign Secretary William Hague in a statement sent to reporters. "Malala's bravery in standing up for the right of all young girls in Pakistan to an education is an example to us all."
Pakistani doctors at a military hospital earlier removed a bullet from Malala's body that entered her head and headed toward her spine. The military has described her recovery as satisfactory and said she was able to move her legs and hands several days ago when her sedatives were reduced. They have not said whether she suffered any brain damage or other permanent damage.
On Monday, the military said damaged bones in Malala's skull will need to be repaired or replaced, and she will need "intensive neuro rehabilitation." The decision to send the girl abroad was taken in consultation with her family, and the Pakistani government will pay for her treatment.
Pakistanis have held rallies for Malala throughout the country, but most have only numbered a few hundred people. The largest show of support by far occurred Sunday when tens of thousands of people held a demonstration in the southern party city of Karachi organized by the most powerful political party in the city, the Muttahida Quami Movement.
Malala earned the enmity of the Pakistani Taliban for publicizing their behavior when they took over the northwestern Swat Valley, where she lived, and for speaking about the importance of education for girls.
The group first started to exert its influence in Swat in 2007 and quickly extended its reach to much of the valley by the next year. They set about imposing their will on residents by forcing men to grow beards, preventing women from going to the market and blowing up many schools — the majority for girls.
Malala wrote about these practices in a journal for the BBC under a pseudonym when she was just 11. After the Taliban were pushed out of the Swat Valley in 2009 by the Pakistani military, she became even more outspoken in advocating for girls' education. She appeared frequently in the media and was given one of the country's highest honors for civilians for her bravery.
The military carried out its offensive in Swat after a video surfaced of a militant flogging a woman who had allegedly committed adultery, which helped mobilize public support against the Taliban.
Many hope the shooting of Malala will help push the military to undertake a long-awaited offensive in the Pakistani Taliban's last main sanctuary in the country in the North Waziristan tribal area.
The police station attacked by the Taliban on Sunday night was located in the small town of Matni, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Peshawar, said police officer Ishrat Yar. The militants were armed with heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades and assault rifles.
One of the policemen who was beheaded was a senior official who commanded several police stations in the area and was leading reinforcements against the attack, said Yar. Another 12 policemen received gunshot wounds.
The militants burned the police station and four police vehicles before they escaped, said Yar.
A Pakistani Taliban spokesman, Mohammad Afridi, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the police were targeted because they had killed several militants.
The Taliban have carried out hundreds of attacks throughout Pakistan but the attacks rarely include such a high number of militants as in the assault on the police station in Matni.
Khan reported from Peshawar, Pakistan. Associated Press writers Asif Shahzad in Islamabad, Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan, and David Stringer in London contributed to this report.