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Wednesday 24 January 2018

Death threat Afghan girl back in US

Paediatrician Alexander Van Speybroeck uses a stethoscope on Shah Bibi as her host mother Ann Drummond watches at Shriners Hospital for Children in Los Angeles (AP)
Paediatrician Alexander Van Speybroeck uses a stethoscope on Shah Bibi as her host mother Ann Drummond watches at Shriners Hospital for Children in Los Angeles (AP)

A little Afghan girl whose love of painting won the hearts of American doctors who fitted her with a prosthetic arm has returned to the United States after her new-found celebrity sparked death threats in her homeland.

Shah Bibi Tarakhail, six, arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on the last leg of her journey from Kabul.

She has been granted a six-month visa, but Amel Najjar, executive director of the Children of War Foundation, said her group was looking into permanent residency status for her, perhaps as a political refugee.

Ms Najjar said all the attention made the girl a target of insurgents in Afghanistan, who railed against her exposure to Western culture.

Her father told the charity that he and his daughter had been in hiding and separated from the rest of their family since her return to Afghanistan in April. But Shah Bibi grew so depressed that he had her admitted to hospital.

"Her father called us a week ago, said she'd been in a hospital near the Pakistani border and her life was in danger," Ms Najjar said. "Her father said, 'I can't care for her any more and it's at a point where she needs to be out of here sooner rather than later'."

The girl lost her right arm last year when she picked up a grenade following a firefight between US and Taliban forces in her village near the Pakistan border. The explosion, which killed her brother, also destroyed her right eye.

After doctors at Los Angeles' Shriners Hospital For Children fitted her with a prosthetic arm, she quickly adapted and resumed painting, something she revealed was her favourite pastime in Afghanistan.

After a stop at a restaurant for a drink and chicken nuggets, she headed back to the hospital to be checked out before going home with Ms Najjar and will move in with a host family next week.

She broke into a huge grin when reunited with her physiotherapist. "You remember me?" Vivian Yip asked as Shah Bibi rushed to embrace her.

Soon she was demonstrating that, although her prosthetic arm had lost one of its straps, she had not lost any of her skill. She was stringing children's blocks together with yarn, cutting up a pink sheet of paper and drawing a happy face on it. Then, with Ms Yip's help, she signed her name.

She cocked her head, smiled and said "Thank you" when someone praised her work.

Just before she returned home last April, Children of War had arranged a lesson for her with prominent abstract expressionist Davyd Whaley, who praised her talent. After Galerie Michael in Beverly Hills showed her work around, she received an invitation to visit the Picasso Museum in Spain.

Mr Whaley has offered her another lesson at the gallery.

Before she starts school in the autumn, Shah Bibi's doctors plan to fit her with a prosthetic eye and will eventually treat some of the scars she sustained when the grenade exploded.

Press Association

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