People shout slogans and hold placards with the photograph of Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, arrested for killing late Punjab governor Salman Taseer, during a rally in Karachi on January 9, 2011, against the reform of the blasphemy law. — Photo by AFP

ISLAMABAD: The bodyguard behind Pakistan's most high-profile political assassination in three years has confessed that he acted alone in the shooting of governor Salman Taseer, police said.

Police commando Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, who was led away smiling on Tuesday after gunning down Taseer outside an Islamabad coffee shop, appeared in court for a remand hearing following his official confession.

He has said he killed in the name of religion because the governor of Punjab province wanted to reform the blasphemy laws.

“He has recorded his confessional statement for the murder...in which he said that he killed Salman Taseer on his own and there was no involvement of any religious or militant organisation,” senior police official Haroon Joya told AFP.

Members of the main ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP), to which Punjab provincial governor Taseer belonged, had suggested that his killing was part of a wider plot, and slammed security failures that led to his death.

Questions have been asked about why no policeman or guard apparently made an attempt to overpower the 26-year-old gunman.

Qadri was not due in court until Tuesday, but officials said he was brought to a closed hearing in Rawalpindi a day early after officially confessing to the crime, infuriating defence lawyers who said they were not invited.

“The move was to avoid arguments from the defence,” defence lawyer Malik Waheed Anjum told AFP.

“None of our lawyers could attend the court because we didn't know about the proceedings.”

But Joya told AFP: “They did not summon the defence lawyers because they did not feel the need. We did not deceive the defence, because we presented him in the court according to law.”

The next hearing has been scheduled for January 24.

Taseer's killing has met with mixed reactions in Pakistan, with many from the country's conservative religious quarter praising the gunman for acting to silence the moderate politician.

More than 50,000 people from religious groups rallied in Karachi Sunday in support of Qadri, calling him a hero and demanding that any effort to reform the blasphemy law — recently used to sentence a Christian woman to death — be dropped.

At his last court appearance, Qadri was showered with rose petals and a loud crowd of supporters at the courthouse forced the relocation of the hearing to Islamabad.

It was the most high-profile assassination in Pakistan since former premier Benazir Bhutto was killed in December 2007.

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