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Threats bring Afghan girl back to Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES--When the art-loving little girl from Afghanistan left Los Angeles last April, her American friends sent her away with brushes, an iPad filled with photo souvenirs and a head full of ideas for painting pretty pictures like the one she created with the new prosthetic arm they had just given her.

But while word of the colorful abstract expressionist work Shah Bibi Tarakhail had painted won the 6-year-old widespread praise and even an invitation to visit the Picasso Museum in Spain, it also aroused the wrath of the Taliban.

Word quickly spread to her family that she would be killed for adopting Western ways, and the family fled its small home on the Pakistani border.

On Thursday, with just the clothes on her back and a small bag containing a pink party dress and other items, Shah Bibi returned to Los Angeles. While her family remains in hiding somewhere in the Afghan-Pakistan region, the nonprofit group Children of War is placing her with a host family for the next several months. Eventually the group hopes to win her political asylum in the United States.

“When she went back, the minute she got there she became a target,” said Dr. Arsalan Darmal, a Newport Beach psychologist who treated her during her earlier U.S. visit and has remained in touch with her family.

“If she stayed,” added Darmal, who helped get her out, “she knew she was going to be killed.”

Although Children of War has rescued more than 100 youngsters, including many with grievous war injuries like Shah Bibi's, her case quickly gained international attention. It was an outpouring of admiration fueled both by her plucky if shy personality and her love of art.

She'd lost her right eye and most of her right arm last summer when she mistook a discarded grenade outside her home for a rock, and it exploded, ripping her body with shrapnel and killing her brother. But it couldn't kill her zest for life.

As soon as she learned how to use the prosthetic arm doctors at Shriners Hospital For Children fitted her with, she began drawing. Children of War, learning of her interest, arranged a painting lesson with prominent abstract expressionist Davyd Whaley, who said he was astounded by her skill at matching colors.

“She kind of has a facility for it if she wants to pursue it,” he told The Associated Press.

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Shah Bibi Tarakhail, a 6-year-old Afghan girl whose love of painting won the hearts of the U.S. doctors who fitted her with a prosthetic, is hugged by her host mother, Ann Drummond, at the Shriners Hospital for Children on Thursday, June 19.

(AP)

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