Conflict & Justice

Pakistani teen who stopped suicide bomber to get posthumous award


Pakistani army personnel salute after placing flowers at the grave of student Aitzaz Hassan in Hangu, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, on January 11, 2014. Hassan, 15, sacrificed his life to stop a suicide bomber, saving the lives of hundreds of students, and has been handed the country's highest award for bravery.



A Pakistani teenager who sacrificed his life to stop a suicide bomber, saving the lives of hundreds of students, has been honoured with the country's highest award for bravery.

Aitzaz Hassan, 15, a student in Hangu district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, has become a national hero after tackling the bomber who came to attack his school on Monday while hundreds of students were inside.

Hassan died in hospital after the bomber blew himself up at the school gates. No one else was wounded or killed in the incident.

The office of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said it had advised President Mamnoon Hussain "to approve the conferment of Sitara-e-Shujjat (star of bravery) to Shaheed Aitzaz Hassan.

"Shaheed Aitzaz's brave act saved the lives of hundreds of students and established a sterling example of gallantry and patriotism," it said in a statement issued late Friday.

An official from the Prime Minister's house told AFP on Saturday that Hassan's family is expected to receive the posthumous award on March 23, Pakistan's national day, following the president's ceremonial approval.

News of Hassan's act led to an outpouring of tributes on social media.

Pakistani newspapers, TV channels and social media sites had demanded recognition for Hassan's bravery, calling him a hero who should receive the nation's highest award.

Locals from Hassan's village, Ibrahimzai in Hangu district, and Pakistan army officers laid floral wreaths on his grave on Saturday as relatives looked on and wept.

Students held a vigil and carried placards condemning the killing and terrorism.

A military statement on Saturday said Brigadier Nadeem Zaki Manj, a local commander in Hangu, visited Hassan's grave and laid a floral wreath on behalf of General Raheel Sharif, the head of Pakistan's army.

The commander also conveyed Sharif's "rich tributes to the bereaved family on the bravery and sacrifice" of their son, the statement added.

"The Nation is proud of this young Hero who has set a sterling example of bravery and sacrifice... he has sacrificed his today for our better tomorrow," the army chief said in a message for Hassan's father.

Hundreds of fellow students prayed for Hassan in the morning school assembly.

Shahban Mahdi, a classmate of Hassan, told AFP: "I am proud of what he did. I owe my life to him -- had it not been for Aitzaz Hassan, none of us would be alive."

Habib Ali, one of Hassan's teachers, added: "His classmates miss him...but they promise they will not forget him always and will keep his memory alive. And we say to all terrorists: you cannot stop us, and we will keep on studying."

Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, who survived being shot in the head by the Taliban for championing girls' right to education, paid tribute to the teenager on Friday, describing him as "brave and courageous."

"In sacrificing his own life, Aitzaz protected hundreds of innocent young students from being killed," she said in a statement.

"I wish that in giving his own life he helps to bring peace to my people and my country," she said.

Hassan's father Mujahid Ali Bangash, 55, told AFP on Thursday he felt not sadness but pride at his son's death.

"Aitzaz has made us proud by valiantly intercepting the bomber and saving the lives of hundreds of his fellow students," he said.

"I am happy that my son has become a martyr by sacrificing his life for a noble cause."

Bangash works in the UAE and was only able to reach Ibrahimzai village, which lies in an area of Hangu dominated by minority Shiite Muslims, the day after his son's funeral.

Police official Shakirullah Bangash told AFP on Thursday that Aitzaz intercepted the bomber 490 feet away from the main gate of the school, which has about 1,000 students.