Pakistani girl who survived Taliban attack visits United States

Jake Pearson,AP

Jake Pearson

Associated Press

NEW YORK — A 16-year-old Pakistani girl and likely contender for the Nobel Peace Prize was in New York on Thursday, the eve of this year’s prize announcement, to promote her memoir of her campaign for girls’ education and surviving an assassination attempt by the Taliban.

Malala Yousafzai was in Manhattan for a media interview at a community center, just hours after the announcement she won the $65,000 Sakharov Award, Europe’s top human-rights award. The accolade and buzz for the teenager came almost exactly a year after she was shot in the head for her outspoken support for girls’ education.

The assassination attempt drew worldwide attention to the struggle for women’s rights in Pakistan. Malala addressed the United Nations on her 16th birthday, and she expects to meet with Queen Elizabeth II later this month.

The Nobel Peace Prize committee will say only that a record 259 candidates, including 50 organizations, have been nominated this year. Speculation on front-runners for Friday’s announcement is primarily based on previous choices and current events.

Besides Malala, others getting attention are Congolese surgeon Dr. Denis Mukwege, an advocate for women’s rights; Svetlana Gannushkina and the Memorial human rights group she heads in Russia; Egyptian computer scientist Maggie Gobran, who chucked her academic career to become a Coptic Christian nun and run a charity; and Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning, the American soldier convicted of giving classified documents to WikiLeaks in one of the biggest intelligence leaks in U.S. history.

Malala has been giving TV interviews about girls’ education since she was 11. Her father, human rights activist Ziauddin Yousafzai, founded an all-girls school in Pakistan.

Becoming well-known made her a potential Taliban target. But she writes in her new book, “I Am Malala,” that she thought “even the Taliban don’t kill children.”

But on Oct. 9, 2012, a masked gunman jumped into a pickup truck taking girls home from the school and shouted “who is Malala?” before shooting her in the head.

Her father asked his brother-in-law to prepare a coffin. But Malala woke up a week later at a hospital in Birmingham, England, and gradually regained her sight and her voice.

The world’s horrified reaction to the attack led to the Malala Fund, which campaigns for girls’ education around the world. Malala has received multiple awards.

Still, militants threaten to kill her if she returns home.

“If we found her again, then we would definitely try to kill her,” Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told The Associated Press in an interview. “We will feel proud upon her death.”

Her assailant is still at large.

Malala’s fame has stirred some anti-Western sentiments in Pakistan. Many Pakistanis publicly wonder whether the shooting was staged to create a hero for the West to embrace.

But in awarding the Sakharov Award in Brussels on Thursday, Martin Schulz, president of the EU legislature, said, “Malala bravely stands for the right of all children to be granted a fair education. This right for girls is far too commonly neglected.”

Malala and her family now live in Birmingham, England, in a house behind a big gate.

She said in her book that her favorite actress is Angelina Jolie and she likes the TV show “Ugly Betty.” But she wants to return to Pakistan and go into politics.

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown sent her “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” and she said she identifies with Dorothy, trying to get home.