SWAT (AFP) – Malala Yousafzai landed in the Swat valley Saturday for her first visit back where she was shot in the head by the Taliban more than five years ago.
The visit by the 20-year-old Nobel laureate was kept tightly under wraps and she was accompanied by the Pakistani military, who were providing heavy security, as well as her mother, father and two brothers.
After flying by army helicopter to the northwestern region from Islamabad, she met with friends and family before visiting the all-boys Swat Cadet College Guli Bagh, some 15 kilometres (nine miles) outside of Mingora, the district’s main town.
She looked happy on arrival at the school, where she is expected to speak with students before returning to Islamabad.
Mingora is where Malala’s family was living and where she was attending school on October 9, 2012, when a gunman boarded her school bus, asked “Who is Malala?”, and shot her.
She was treated first at an army hospital then airlifted to the British city of Birmingham.
Her near-miraculous recovery, and tireless career as an education advocate, have since turned her into a global symbol for human rights, and in 2014 she became the youngest person ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize when she was just 17.
The trip comes two days after Malala, currently a student at Oxford University in the UK, made her emotional return to Pakistan, where her unannounced visit has been met with widespread joy and pride.
She broke down in tears as she made a televised speech on Thursday, saying it was her “dream” to be back, and has vowed to Pakistani media that she will return permanently after she has completed her education.
However she has also been met with pockets of intense criticism. Malala is widely respected internationally, but opinion is divided in Pakistan, where some conservatives view her as a Western agent on a mission to shame her country.