LONDON – Three months after she was shot in the head for daring to say girls should be able to get an education, a 15-year-old Pakistani hugged her nurses and smiled as she walked out of a Birmingham hospital.
Malala Yousufzai waved to a guard and smiled shyly as she cautiously strode down the hospital corridor talking to nurses in images released Friday by the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham.
"She is quite well and happy on returning home -- as we all are," Malala's father, Ziauddin, told The Associated Press.
Malala, who was released Thursday, will live with her parents and two brothers in Britain while she continues to receive treatment. She will be admitted again in the next month for another round of surgery to rebuild her skull.
Experts have been optimistic that Malala, who was airlifted from Pakistan in October to receive specialized medical care, has a good chance of recovery because the brains of teenagers are still growing and can better adapt to trauma.
"Malala is a strong young woman and has worked hard with the people caring for her to make excellent progress in her recovery," said Dr. Dave Rosser, the medical director for University Hospitals Birmingham. "Following discussions with Malala and her medical team, we decided that she would benefit from being at home with her parents and two brothers."
The Taliban targeted Malala because of her relentless objection to the group's regressive interpretation of Islam that limits girls' access to education. She was shot while returning home from school in Pakistan's scenic Swat Valley on Oct. 9.
Her case won worldwide recognition, and the teen became a symbol for the struggle for women's rights in Pakistan. In an indication of her reach, she made the shortlist for Time magazine's "Person of the Year" for 2012.
The militants have threatened to target Malala again because they say she promotes "Western thinking," but a security assessment in Britain concluded the risk was low in releasing her to her family. British police have provided security for her at the hospital, but West Midlands Police refused to comment on any security precautions for Malala or her family going forward.
Pakistani doctors removed a bullet that entered her head and traveled toward her spine before Malala's family decided to send her to Britain for specialized treatment. Pakistan is paying.
Pakistan also appointed Malala's father as its education attache in Birmingham for at least three years, meaning Malala is likely to remain in Britain for some time.
Hospital authorities say Malala can read and speak, but cited patient confidentiality when asked whether she is well enough to continue her education in Britain.
While little has been made public about Malala's medical condition, younger brains recover more fully from trauma because they are still growing. Dr. Anders Cohen, chief of neurosurgery at the Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York, estimated she might recover up to 85 percent of the cognitive ability she had before -- more than enough to be functional.
"She'd be able to move on with life, maybe even become an activist again," said Cohen, who is not involved in Malala's treatment.
In the Swat Valley, people reacted with joy at the news of her release. Family and friends handed out sweets to neighbors in Malala's hometown of Mingora.
"Obviously we all are jubilant over her rapid recovery, and we hope that she will soon fully recover and would return back to her home town at an appropriate time," said Mahmoodul Hasan, Malala's 35-year-old cousin. Like Malala's father, he runs a private school in Mingora.
But the Swat Valley remains a tense place. Only last month, several hundred students in Mingora protested plans to have their school named after Malala, saying it would make the institution a target for the Taliban.
Malala's father vowed to return to Pakistan with his family once Malala is fully recovered.
"I thank the whole of Pakistan and all other well-wishers for praying for her and our family," he said. "What I am doing here is all temporary, and God willing we all will return to our homeland."