Malala Yousafzai returns to Pakistan for first time since assassination bid

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai returned to Pakistan Thursday for the first time since the Taliban tried to end her campaign for female education by shooting the then-schoolgirl in the head.

Instead of being silenced by the 2012 attack that gravely wounded her, Yousufzai went on to become a globally recognized advocate for moderation and children's education.

"The visit was kept a secret due to security issues," a relative said on condition of anonymity after the 20-year-old Yousafzai was greeted at Benazir Bhutto International Airport in Islamabad by government and security officials. She was taken to a hotel under tight security, the family member added.

However, she will not travel to the Swat Valley in the north of the country, where the shooting occurred.

"It was a month ago when she decided to visit Pakistan at any cost," said a second relative who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of Taliban reprisals.

A look at Malala Yousafzai:

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Nobel Peace Prize 2014 laureates Pakistan's Malala Yousafzai gives the V-sign as she waves to well-wishers from the balcony of the Grand Hotel ahead of the Nobel Banquet following the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo on December 10, 2014. The 17-year-old Pakistani girls' education activist Malala Yousafzai known as Malala shares the 2014 peace prize with the Indian campaigner Kailash Satyarthi, 60, who has fought for 35 years to free thousands of children from virtual slave labour. AFP PHOTO / VEGARD WIVESTAD GROTT (Photo credit should read VEGARD WIVESTAD GROTT/AFP/Getty Images)
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai speaks at a joint press conference with fellow laureate and Norwegian Prime minister after their meeting at the PM's office in Oslo on December 11, 2014. At 17-years old, the Pakistani known everywhere as Malala is the youngest ever recipient of the prize she is sharing with the Indian campaigner Kailash Satyarthi, 60, who has fought for 35 years to free thousands of children from virtual slave labour. Their pairing has the extra symbolism of linking neighbouring countries that have been in conflict for decades. AFP PHOTO / ODD ANDERSEN (Photo credit should read ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)
OSLO, NORWAY - DECEMBER 10: Malala Yousafzai. delivers her acceptance speech to the audience during the Nobel Peace Prize Award ceremony at Oslo City Town on December 10, 2014 in Oslo, Norway. (Photo by Nigel Waldron/Getty Images)
Pakistani activist for female education Malala Yousafzai attends a press conference ahead of the award ceremony for the 2014 World's Children Prize for the Rights of the Child at Gripsholm Castle in Mariefred, west of Stockholm, on October 29, 2014. AFP PHOTO / JONATHAN NACKSTRAND (Photo credit should read JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 21: Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai (L), 17-years-old, receives the 2014 Liberty Medal from Jeffrey Rosen, President and CEO of the National Constitution Center October 21, 2014 at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Given annually, the medal honors men and women of courage and conviction who strive to secure the blessings of liberty to people around the globe. (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)
Pakistani rights activist Malala Yousafzai holds bouquets of flowers after addressing the media in Birmingham, central England on October 10, 2014. The Nobel Peace Prize went Friday to 17-year-old Pakistani Malala Yousafzai and India's Kailash Satyarthi for their work promoting children's rights. Seventeen-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai said she was 'honoured' to be the first Pakistani and the youngest person to be given the award and dedicated the award to the 'voiceless'. 'This award is for all those children who are voiceless, whose voices need to be heard,' she said. AFP PHOTO / OLI SCARFF (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 10: Malala Yousafzai speaks during a press conference at the Library of Birmingham after being announced as a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, on October 10, 2014 in Birmingham, England. The 17-year-old Pakistani campaigner, who lives in Britain where she received medical treatment following an assassination attempt by the Taliban in 2012, was jointly awarded the Nobel peace prize with Kailash Satyarthi from India. Chair of the Nobel Committee Thorbjorn Jagland made the announcement in Oslo, commending Malala for her 'heroic struggle' as a spokesperson for girls' rights to education. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Pakistani activist for female education Malala Yousafzai attends a press conference ahead of the award ceremony for the 2014 World's Children Prize for the Rights of the Child at Gripsholm Castle in Mariefred, west of Stockholm, on October 29, 2014. AFP PHOTO / JONATHAN NACKSTRAND (Photo credit should read JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)
Pakistani activist for female education and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai sits before receiving the 2014 World's Children Prize for the Rights of the Child during an award ceremony at Gripsholm Castle in Mariefred, western Stockholm on October 29, 2014. AFP PHOTO / JONATHAN NACKSTRAND (Photo credit should read JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - OCTOBER 10 : The biography of Nobel Peace Prize Winner Malala Yousafzai's 'I Am Malala' is seen at a bookstore in Islamabad, Pakistan on October 10, 2014. Pakistani teenager who was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012 becomes the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. (Photo by Muhammad Reza/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 19: Malala Yousafzai attends TimesTalks Presents: I Am Malala at The French Institute on August 19, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images)
PORT OF SPAIN, TRINIDAD - JULY 30: Education rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan delivers a speech at the National Academy for the Performing Arts on July 30, 2014 in Port of Spain, Trinidad. (Photo by Sean Drakes/LatinContent/Getty Images)
HUERTH, GERMANY - DECEMBER 01: Malala Yousafzai speaks during the '2013! Menschen, Bilder, Emotionen' - RTL-Jahresrueckblick on December 1, 2013 in Huerth near Cologne, Germany. (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)
Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani student who was shot in the head by the Pakistani Taliban applauds after being awarded with the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, on November 20, 2013 at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France. The Sakharov Prize , named after Soviet scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, was established by the European Parliament as a means to honour individuals or organisations who have dedicated their lives to the defence of human rights and freedom of thought. AFP PHOTO/ PATRICK HERTZOG (Photo credit should read PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty Images)
This video grab taken on November 7, 2013, shows Asmatullah Shaheen (R) caretaker chief Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) announcing the new leader of TTP during a press conference in an undisclosed location in northwest Pakistan. The Pakistani Taliban appointed a hardline cleric linked to the attack on Malala Yousafzai as their new chief on November 7, throwing proposed peace talks with the government into serious doubt. Maulana Fazlullah, elected by the Taliban's supreme council, led the militants' brutal two-year rule in Pakistan's northwest valley of Swat in 2007-2009, before a military operation retook the area. AFP PHOTO/THIR KHAN (Photo credit should read THIR KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 24: General view of the atmosphere at the third annual Pencils of Promise gala at Guastavino's on October 24, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Pencils of Promise)
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As an 11-year-old, Yousufzai started an anonymous diary describing a girl's thirst for education. She is now a student at Oxford University in England.

Once known as the Switzerland of Pakistan, Swat was under the Taliban's harsh rule between 2007 and 2009, during which they banned music and tried to halt female education. In 2009, Pakistan's army launched a massive offensive against militants, pushing them largely out of the valley. Still, some fighters and sympathizers remain and continue to threaten and kill critics.

Yousafzai had already won international acclaim as an advocate for women's education when she caught the attention of the Taliban. On Oct. 9, 2012, a gunman stormed her school bus in the city of Mingora and shot her in the face at point-blank range. The Taliban said at the time that the attack was meant to punish Yousafzai for promoting Western culture and speaking out against the militants.

She was critically wounded but recovered at a hospital in Britain.

Since then, she has become a worldwide symbol of female empowerment, founding the Malala Fund, a charity dedicated to giving all girls access to education, with her father, Ziauddin.

"This award is not just for me," she said when accepting the Nobel on Dec. 10, 2014. "It is for those forgotten children who want education. It is for those frightened children who want peace. It is for those voiceless children who want change."

While her campaigning has taken her around the world, Yousafzai has also harbored a desire to return to her homeland.

She told David Letterman in a recent episode of his Netflix interview series that she had been searching for an opportunity to travel to Pakistan.

"I want my feet to touch that land and to be there," she said.

Mushtaq Yusufzai reported from Peshawar, Ethan Sacks from New York and Alex Johnson from Los Angeles. 

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