By Shaan Khan, CNN
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) – A 14-year-old girl who was awarded Pakistan’s first National Peace Prize for her online diary reporting on the Taliban’s ban on education was shot and wounded on her way home from school Tuesday.
Malala Yousufzai, a frequent target of death threats, was wounded when gunmen opened fire on her school van in Swat Valley, police said.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, Taliban spokesman Ihsnaullah Ishan told CNN, saying the shooting was a consequence of Malala’s activism.
“She wanted to make our women leave their homes for secular education, something the Taliban will never permit,” Ishan said.
Mohammad Iqbal, a doctor at the Swat hospital where the girl was first treated, said that while Malala is “out of immediate danger,” one of the bullets that struck her is lodged in her neck and will be difficult to remove. She was airlifted at the request of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf to a larger hospital in Peshawar.
Malala’s father, Zia Ud Din Yousufzai, said his daughter is in stable condition. The Taliban warned, however, that “if she survives this time, she won’t next time.”
Two other girls wounded in the gunfire suffered injuries that were not life-threatening.
The van was stopped by armed militants who asked those inside to point out Malala, said Kainat Bibi, who was one of those wounded. When the girls pointed her out, the men opened fire, Bibi said. The van’s driver sped away to prevent more bloodshed, she said.
President Asif Ali Zardari strongly condemned the attack, which prompted outrage among residents on local media sites.
Malala, a resident of Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan — one of the most conservative regions of the country — wrote about her frustration with the Taliban’s restrictions on female education in her town.
Using the Internet, she reached out to the outside world, taking a stand by writing about her daily battle with extremist militants who used fear and intimidation to force girls to stay at home.
“I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taliban,” she wrote in January 2009. “I have had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat. My mother made me breakfast and I went off to school. I was afraid going to school because the Taliban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools.”
Last year, she expressed to CNN that she feared “being beheaded by the Taliban because of my passion for education. During their rule, the Taliban used to march into our houses to check whether we were studying or watching television.”
Malala said she used to hide her books under her bed, fearing a house search by the Taliban.
Former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani announced the award in November, which also comes with a 500,000 rupee ($5,780) prize. He directed Pakistan’s Cabinet to award the national prize every year to a child younger than 18 who contributes to peace and education in the country.
Swat remained under Taliban control for years until 2009, when the military cleared it in an operation that also sparked the evacuation of thousands of families.
Journalist Nasir Habib contributed to this report.