UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was outraged at the shooting of a 14-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl activist by the Taliban and was writing to her family to offer support, his spokesman said on Wednesday.
Malala Yousufzai, who campaigned for education of girls, was shot and critically wounded on Tuesday as she was leaving her school in her hometown in the Swat Valley. The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying her advocacy was pro-Western and she had opposed them.
"Like so many others in Pakistan and around the world he's truly outraged by this attack," Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters. "To show his support he's writing to the family of Malala Yousufzai."
In a statement later on Wednesday, Ban called for those responsible for "this heinous and cowardly act to be swiftly brought to justice," saying he had been "deeply moved" by Yousufzai's courageous efforts to promote a right to education.
A gunman arrived at Yousufzai's school on Tuesday, asking for her by name. He opened fire on her and two classmates on a bus. One of the girls wounded with Yousufzai is in critical condition and the other is recovering and out of danger.
Ban expressed his sympathy to the families of all three girls. His special envoy for children and armed conflict, Leila Zerrougui, and the United Nations Children's Fund also strongly condemned the attack.
"Education is a fundamental right for all children," said Zerrougui in a statement. "The (Pakistani Taliban) must respect the right to education of all children, including girls, to go to school and live in peace."
Yousufzai began standing up to the Pakistani Taliban when she was just 11, when the government effectively ceded control of the Swat Valley, a one-time tourist spot infiltrated by militants from Afghan border bases more than five years ago.
She campaigned for education for girls and later received Pakistan's highest civilian prize. Her father said on Wednesday that his daughter had defied threats for years.
The shooting was denounced across Pakistan. The front pages of national newspapers carried pictures of a bandaged and bloody Yousufzai being brought to hospital.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)