Taliban commander writes to Malala to express regret on attack

Taliban commander writes to Malala to express regret on attack
Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen who was shot in the head by Taliban militants in October, addressed a U.N. gathering Friday to say the attack hasn't deterred her advocacy for girls education. (Stuart Ramson / Associated Press)

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A prominent Pakistani Taliban commander has written a letter to a teenage girl shot in the head by the group, expressing regret that he didn't warn her before the assassination attempt that propelled her activism to the international stage.

The letter from Adnan Rasheed, however, didn't apologize for the October attack that left Malala Yousafzai gravely wounded. Rasheed, who has close relations with Taliban leaders, said only that he found the shooting “shocking” and wished it hadn't happened.

Rasheed said he would leave it up to God to decide whether the outspoken activist for girls' education should have been targeted.

PHOTOS: Teenage girl shot by Taliban

“You have said in your speech yesterday that pen is mightier than sword,” Rasheed wrote in reference to Malala's speech Friday at the United Nations, “so they attacked you for your sword not for your books or school.”

Rasheed said the letter, which the Associated Press received late Tuesday, expressed his own opinion, not that of the militant group. The AP spoke to another Taliban commander Wednesday who confirmed that the letter, written in English, was authentic.

Malala was 15  when she and two of her friends were attacked on a bus while on their way home from school in Pakistan's northwest Swat Valley. The assassination attempt sparked worldwide condemnation.

Malala celebrated her 16th birthday last week by giving a speech at the U.N. in New York, saying that the attack gave her new courage and demanding that world leaders provide free education to all children.

Rasheed said the Taliban did not attack Malala because she was a proponent for girls' education, but because she was critical of the militant group when it took over much of Swat in 2008 and 2009. That mirrors what some militants said at the time of the shooting.

Rasheed, whom the Taliban broke out of prison last year, said the militants supported both boys and girls going to school as long as they received an Islamic education and didn't study what he called a “satanic or secular curriculum.” Malala wrote in a blog for the BBC at the time the Taliban controlled Swat about how many students moved out of the valley after the Taliban issued an edict banning girls from school.

The Taliban have kidnapped and shot other education activists and have blown up hundreds of schools in the northwest. The Pakistani army launched a large offensive against the Taliban in Swat in the spring of 2009 and drove out many of the militants, but they have continued periodic attacks.

Rasheed said Taliban fighters blow up schools that Pakistani soldiers use as hideouts. Teachers and activists say this is only partly true. Some were targeted because they were used by the military, but many of the attacks were motivated by the Taliban's opposition to girls education and schooling that doesn't follow their strict interpretation of Islam, the teachers and activists say.