In an “important breakthrough”, three suspects have been arrested over the near-fatal Taliban attack on Pakistan’s teenage rights activist Malala Yousufzai, who remains on ventilator at a top army hospital with the military today saying the next 36 to 48 hours are critical.

14-year-old Malala, who along with two of her friends was attacked on Tuesday in former Taliban stronghold of Swat in northwest Pakistan, was airlifted to the military hospital in Rawalpindi from Peshawar on Thursday for better care after a three-hour surgery to remove a bullet from near her spine.

Swat district police chief Gul Afzal Khan Afridi said they had made an “important breakthrough” by arresting three men.

The identity of the men was not disclosed.

It could not immediately be ascertained whether they were members of any militant group.

However, Ataullah, the alleged mastermind of Tuesday’s attack on Malala, was still at large.

Mr. 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.

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.

A military spokesman said today that Malala’s condition was satisfactory though she continued to be on ventilator at the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology in Rawalpindi.

“According to neurosurgical and intensive care specialists, Malala’s condition is satisfactory but the next 36 to 48 hours are critical,” Maj Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa, head of the Inter—Services Public Relations, said in Rawalpindi.

He described Malala’s shifting to Rawalpindi as .

“difficult” but said it was completed successfully.

Fresh tests and medical investigations were conducted after Malala was admitted to the hospital in Rawalpindi.

On the auspicious day of Friday, the whole country prayed for her recovery.

“We pray to Allah for her speedy recovery,” the military spokesman said.

Masood Kausar, the Governor of the northwestern Khyber - Pakhtunkhwa province, yesterday said that Malala was “not yet out of danger despite an improvement in her condition”.

Reports have said she is yet to regain consciousness and that parts of her brain may have been damaged.

Authorities have put on hold plans to send Malala abroad for treatment after doctors said it would not be advisable for her to undertake a long journey.

Declaring the attack on Malala as “un-Islamic”, over 50 Sunni clerics issued a fatwa terming Taliban’s interpretation of Islam as “repugnant” to the teachings of the faith.

The clerics, belonging to the Sunni Ittehad Council, said in their combined fatwa: “Islam doesn’t prohibit women from getting education. The attackers transgressed the Islamic Hudood (principles).”

In an interview to CNN, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said the attack on Malala could possibly be a turning point in Pakistan.

“This is a wakeup call, to not only people in Pakistan, but people all over the world, that we have a clear and present danger in terms of people who choose to use violence as means to follow whatever they consider to be their agenda.

To what extent they will go they have revealed in this particular incident,” Ms. Khar said.

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