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Malala, 14-year-old Pakistani girl shot by Taliban, can recover, UK doctors say

Updated at 2:45 p.m. ET: LONDON -- Malala Yousufzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl shot in the head by the Taliban, has every chance of making a "good recovery," British doctors said on Monday as she arrived at a hospital in central England for treatment of her severe wounds.

Yousufzai, who was shot for advocating education for girls, was flown from Pakistan to receive specialist treatment at a unit at Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth Hospital that has expertise in dealing with complex trauma cases. The unit has treated hundreds of soldiers wounded in Afghanistan.

"Doctors... believe she has a chance of making a good recovery on every level," said Dr. Dave Rosser, the hospital's medical director, adding that her treatment and rehabilitation could take months.

He told reporters Yousufzai, whose shooting has drawn widespread condemnation, had not yet been assessed by British medics but said she would not have been brought to Britain at all if her prognosis was not good.

TV footage showed a patient, believed to be the schoolgirl, being rushed from an ambulance into the hospital surrounded by a large team of medical staff.

She will undergo scans to reveal the extent of her injuries, but Rosser said doctors could not provide any further details without her agreement.

Pakistani surgeons removed a bullet from near the girl's spinal cord during a three-hour operation the day after the attack last week, but she now needs intensive specialist follow-up care. Treatment is likely to include repairing damaged bones in her skull and complex neurological follow-up.

"Injuries to bones in the skull can be treated very successfully by the neurosurgeons and the plastic surgeons, but it is the damage to the blood supply to the brain that will determine long-term disability," said Duncan Bew, consultant trauma surgeon at Barts Health NHS Trust in London. Judging the best way forward in such difficult cases requires a wide range of experienced medics working as a team.

"In trauma, it is really the coordinated impact of intensive care that is critical. It's not just about keeping the patient alive but also maximising their rehabilitation potential. With neurological injuries that is paramount," Bew said.

Doctors said youth was on her side since a young brain has more ability to recover from injury than a mature one.

"On the positive side, Malala has passed two major hurdles - the removal of the bullet and the very critical 48-hour window after surgery," said Anders Cohen, head of neurosurgery at the Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Yousufzai would receive specialized care in a hospital in the country’s National Health Service system.

"Last week's barbaric attack on Malala Yousufzai and her school friends shocked Pakistan and the world.  Malala's bravery in standing up for the right of all young girls in Pakistan to an education is an example to us all,” Hague said in a statement.

Queen Elizabeth Hospital is the main receiving facility for British soldiers wounded in Afghanistan, and the spokeswoman said the staff were confident they would be able to provide Yousufzai with the necessary care.

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Earlier, a medical team from the United Arab Emirates decided that Yousufzai would require prolonged care to recover fully from the physical and psychological trauma, a Pakistani military statement said before she left for Britain. The panel of doctors recommended she receive treatment abroad, the statement said.

Yousufzai's family was consulted and their wishes were taken into consideration, according to the military.

Attacked while leaving school
Yousufzai was leaving school in her hometown in the Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan on Oct. 9 when she was shot in the head and neck by the Taliban for speaking out against the militants and promoting education for girls.

Yousufzai, a cheerful schoolgirl who had wanted to become a doctor before agreeing to her father's wishes that she strive to be a politician, has become a potent symbol of resistance against the Taliban's efforts to deprive girls of education.

On Sunday, tens of thousands rallied in Pakistan's largest city in support of Yousufzai.

The demonstration in the southern city of Karachi was by far the largest since Yousufzai and two of her classmates were shot.

Still, most government officials have refrained from publicly criticizing the Taliban by name over the attack, in what critics say is a lack of resolve against extremism. 

Opponents of Pakistan's government and military say the shooting is another example of the state's failure to tackle militancy, the biggest threat to the stability of the nuclear-armed South Asian country.

The shooting of Yousufzai was the culmination of years of campaigning that had pitted the young girl against one of Pakistan's most ruthless Taliban commanders, Maulana Fazlullah.

Reuters TV

Fourteen-year-old Malala Yousufzai is transported from a hospital in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on Monday.

‘Public revulsion and condemnation’
The attack horrified people inside and outside Pakistan and sparked hope among some that it would prompt the government to intensify its fight against the Taliban and their allies.

“The public revulsion and condemnation of this cowardly attack shows that the people of Pakistan will not be beaten by terrorists.  The U.K. stands shoulder to shoulder with Pakistan in its fight against terrorism,” Britain’s Hague said in his statement.

But protests against the shooting have been relatively small until now, usually attracting no more than a few hundred people.

That response pales in comparison to the tens of thousands of people who held violent protests in Pakistan last month against a film produced in the United States that denigrated Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

Shakil Adil / AP

Fourteen-year-old Malala Yousufzai was shot by the Taliban on Tuesday for speaking out against the militants and promoting education for girls.

Fresh Taliban attack
The Taliban struck again on Sunday night, attacking the police outpost near Peshawar with rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire, according to Reuters. Security officials said at least six policemen were killed, including two who were beheaded.

Seven policemen are still missing and presumed kidnapped. Several police cars and an armored vehicle were torched.

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The Taliban has been blamed for many suicide bombings across Pakistan and have also staged sophisticated, high-profile attacks on the military, one of the biggest in the world.

Pakistan's interior minister said police had dispatched guards to protect journalists who had been threatened by Taliban militants angered by coverage of Yousufzai's case.

The Taliban, based mostly in the unruly ethnic Pashtun tribal areas near the Afghan border, have said they would now try to kill her father, a headmaster of a girls' school in Swat.

Reuters and NBC News' Fakhar Rehman contributed to this report.

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