Islamabad: In an "important breakthrough", three men have been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the near-fatal attack on teenage rights activist Malala Yousufzai in Swat, a former stronghold of the Taliban in northwest Pakistan, police said on Friday. However, Ataullah, the alleged mastermind of Tuesday's attack on 14-year-old Malala, was still at large, Swat district police chief Gul Afzal Khan Afridi told reporters. He said police had made an "important breakthrough" by arresting the three suspects.
The identity of the men was not disclosed. It could not immediately be ascertained whether they were members of any militant group. Afridi said police were hopeful of arresting Ataullah, who belonged to Sangota area of Swat, soon. Earlier, police and security agencies had detained dozens of suspects for questioning in connection with the attack. The driver of Malala's school bus too was questioned by police.
Most of these people were released after questioning. The banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack on Malala, saying she was targeted for espousing Western ideals and secularism. The Taliban has said it will continue targeting Malala. The teenager is currently in a critical care unit of a top military hospital in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.
Malala is still on ventilator and hospital sources said the next 36 to 48 hours are critical for her recovery.
After doctors removed a bullet lodged near her spine during a three-hour surgery on Wednesday, Malala was airlifted from Peshawar to Rawalpindi on Thursday so that she could be provided better care. A military spokesman said on Friday that Malala's condition was satisfactory though she continued to be on ventilator. He said the next 36 to 48 hours would be critical for her recovery.