PESHAWAR, Pakistan: A Pakistani child activist shot in the head by the Taliban is slowly improving but will remain sedated in intensive care for at least another 24 hours, a relative said Thursday.
The shooting of 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai on a school bus in the scenic Swat valley has been denounced worldwide and by the Pakistani authorities, who have offered a reward of more than $100,000 for the gunmen.
Two of her school friends were also injured. There are mounting questions about how the attack could have happened and how the perpetrators simply walked away in an area with a visible police and army presence.
"Doctors have told us her condition is improving," said Mehmoodul Hasan, one of Malala's relatives at the military hospital in the northwestern city of Peshawar where she is being treated.
"She has been given sedatives for the next 24 hours and after that doctors will examine her and tell us about her condition," Hasan told AFP.
US President Barack Obama, UN chief Ban Ki-moon and Pakistani leaders have expressed horror at the attack on a girl who campaigned for the right to an education during a two-year Taliban insurgency which the army said it had crushed in 2009.
Obama believed the shooting was "reprehensible and disgusting and tragic", said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
"Directing violence at children is barbaric, it's cowardly, and our hearts go out to her and the others who were wounded as well as their families," he said.
Malala won international prominence after highlighting Taliban atrocities in Swat with a blog for the BBC three years ago, when the Islamist militants burned girls' schools and terrorised the valley before the army intervened.
Then aged just 11, her struggle resonated with tens of thousands of girls denied an education by Islamist militants across northwest Pakistan, where the government has been fighting local Taliban since 2007.
On Wednesday doctors successfully removed a bullet lodged near her shoulder, where it moved after entering her head.
Preparations had been made to fly her abroad, but a military source told AFP she was too ill to travel. Carney said US forces were ready to offer transport and treatment to the teenager if needed.
The Pakistani provincial government announced a 10 million rupee ($104,000) reward for information leading to the capture of Malala's attackers.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik has promised to catch the gunmen. Officers in Swat say dozens of people were rounded up after the attack but no one has been charged.
Local residents say four businessmen and outspoken anti-militancy advocates have been shot in Swat in recent months, raising fears about a valley which Pakistan has been trying to restore as a tourist destination.
Mingora police station chief Ahmad Shah told AFP that nearly 200 people had been detained, including the bus driver and a school watchman, in connection with Malala's shooting but that most had been released.
"Police were on alert already, but after this latest incident we are now carrying out nightly search operations on a daily basis to prevent such incidents," he added.
Commentators have questioned whether anything will really change in Pakistan after the killing, despite a call from the army chief General Ashfaq Kayani to further unite against militants and their "barbaric mindset".
Many in the country blame the United States and the war in neighbouring Afghanistan for the violence. The Pakistani intelligence services have been accused of playing a double game in supporting or at least accommodating Islamist militant groups.
The Taliban, who have killed thousands of people across Pakistan in the last five years and destroyed hundreds of girls' schools, have issued a statement saying that any female who opposes them should be killed.