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'Spy of the West': Al-Qaida, Taliban struggle to justify attack on Pakistani teen

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Pakistani students in Lahore, Pakistan hold photographs of child activist Malala Yousufzai during a protest on Tuesday against her attack by the Taliban.

Updated at 5:40 a.m. ET: The Taliban, al-Qaida and conservative groups in Pakistan have launched an unprecedented effort to justify the attack on teenager Malala Yousufzai and to calm the reaction against her shooting.

Yousufzai, 14, and two other girls were shot Oct. 9 after they left school. The teen, who was shot in the head and neck, on Monday was flown to Britain to receive specialist treatment, where doctors said she has every chance of making a "good recovery."

The attack drew widespread protest, with tens of thousands rallying in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, on Sunday.

Malala, 14-year-old Pakistani girl shot by Taliban, can recover, UK doctors say



On Tuesday, al-Qaida's propaganda arm al-Sahab, issued a three-page communique in Pakistan's tribal areas, laying out a justification for the shooting. It is rare for al-Qaida to feel the need to explain an attack, suggesting that the group feels pressured by the strong backlash against Yousufzai's shooting."The girl was part of an agenda perpetrated by the (British Broadcasting Corporation) to run an organized campaign against jihad, Islamic Sharia and purdha or veil," a previously unknown commander, Ustad Ahmad Farooq said in a statement in Pashto.  "Now when she was shot, from Pakistan to the United States, everyone is crying about it." 

Thousands rally in Karachi for Malala, 14-year-old Pakistani girl shot by Taliban

Yousufzai came to public notice for writing a blog supporting the schooling for girls and women for the BBC.  Jihad refers to a religious struggle, which a minority of Muslims interpret as an armed fight against the enemies of Islam.  

The statement, which asked why NGOs and others decried Malala's shooting but ignored abuses and killings by the American and Pakistani governments, came on the same day that Taliban insurgents said Yousufzai deserved to die because she had spoken out against the group and praised President Barack Obama.

Taliban justified the attack by describing Yousufzai as a "spy of the West." The Taliban denied that they targeted the teen for advocating education for girls and said that they would again try to kill her if she survived last week's attack.

"For this espionage, infidels gave her awards and rewards. And Islam orders killing of those who are spying for enemies," the group said in a statement.

"We did not attack her for raising voice for education. We targeted her for opposing mujahedeen and their war. Shariah (Islamic law) says that even a child can be killed if he is propagating against Islam."

Over the weekend, conservative Pakistani politician Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who originally spoke out against the demonstrators, softened his stance, saying that he condemned the attack on "our daughter."  

As doctors debated whether to send Malala Yousafzai abroad for care, thousands rallied in her name, including hundreds of schoolgirls who gathered in Afghanistan. NBC's Amna Nawaz reports.

However, he suggested that other leaders were trying to gain "political mileage" with this issue, according to an article in Pakistan's Dawn newspaper.

$1 million bounty
On Tuesday, Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik visited Kainat Riaz, one of the girls injured during the attack on Yousufzai, according to Eurovision News Exchanges. 

Shazia, another schoolgirl, also was shot but survived. Malik announced a $1 million bounty for Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan and offered a pardon to the organization's leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, if he renounced terrorism.

"I want to tell Hakimullah Mehsud and his comrades: 'Renounce terrorism,'" Malik said, according to Eurovision. "I will announce an all-out pardon to you on behalf of the government. If you decide to renounce terrorism, no matter in which part of Pakistan or FATA [federally administered tribal areas], I will come to you all alone. Stand with me and renounce terrorism. Ask forgiveness of the nation. Ask forgiveness from Allah. Maybe the nation will forgive you. And Allah will forgive you," Malik said.

Yousufzai began standing up to the Pakistani Taliban when she was 11, when the Islamabad government had effectively ceded control of the Swat Valley, where she lives, to the militants.

The attack was the culmination of years of campaigning that had pitted the girl against one of Pakistan's most ruthless Taliban commanders, Maulana Fazlullah.

Tight security for teen
Overnight on Monday, two people wanting to visit the teen in the Birmingham hospital where she is receiving treatment were turned away, the hospital and police said.

"They were stopped in a public area of the hospital and questioned by police, who recorded their details and advised the pair that they would not be allowed to see her," West Midlands Police said in a statement, describing them as "well-wishers."

Authorities are highly sensitive about Yousufzai's security given the Taliban's recent threats.

The special hospital unit where she is receiving care has treated hundreds of soldiers wounded in Afghanistan.

NBC News producers and Reuters contributed to this report.

Shakil Adil / AP

Fourteen-year-old Malala Yousufzai was shot by the Taliban on Tuesday for speaking out against the militants and promoting education for girls. Doctors reported Saturday Yousufzai moved her hands and feet.

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