An explosive-packed car blew up outside the Sheraton Hotel in Karachi on 8 May last year, killing the Frenchmen – who were helping Pakistan build submarines. The bomber and three Pakistanis also died in the attack.

It was the worst attack – in terms of foreign casualties, on Western targets in Pakistan. The attack was blamed on armed Islamist groups in Pakistan who were angered by Pakistan’s decision to support the US-led war in Afghanistan.

Two of the men convicted, Asif Zaheer and Rizwan Ahmed Basheer, appeared for the sentencing at Karachi's Central Prison. A third man, Mohammad Sohail, who is on the run, was sentenced to death in absentia.

Zaheer, the alleged leader of the group, and Basheer had pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, terrorism, possession of explosives and conspiracy.

Judge Feroze Mahmood Bhatti said he found the men guilty of planning the attack, which also wounded 23 people.

A fourth man, Adnan Qamar, was acquitted in absentia. "It was a well-planned conspiracy," Bhatti said. "A vehicle was crashed into the bus carrying French engineers. It was a terrorist incident."

Name change

President Pervez Musharraf is
accused of bowing to US pressure

Police said the fighters belonged to Harkat-ul Mujahideen Al-alami, a breakaway faction of the Harkat-ul Mujahideen group fighting Indian forces in the disputed region of Kashmir.

Harkat-ul Mujahideen was previously known as Harkat-ul Ansar, but changed its name after being declared a terrorist group by the United States in the late 1990s.

Defence lawyer for Zaheer, Haroon al-Qasmi, said he would challenge the verdict in the High Court.

The trial was held in a specially built courtroom inside the Karachi Central Jail.

After the verdict, Bahseer took the opportunity to condemn the Pakistani government and accuse it of bowing to US pressure.

"Americans are holding our country hostage. The country is governed by American whims," he said.

Basheer's grandmother Afroze Begum said her grandson was given the death sentence simply to please the United States.

"He is innocent," she said. “(President Pervez) Musharraf is inviting Allah's wrath."

However, Abdul Razzaq, Basheer's father, said his son had a long association with Harkat-ul Mujahideen. "He has participated in jihad (holy war) in Kashmir," he said.

Outside the prison, relatives of the men wailed and cried.

Execution in Pakistan is carried out by hanging, but only after an exhaustive appeal process.