The threat of a terror attack has got a little more real this Diwali with security forces receiving specific information of the possibility of suicide attacks and relatives of select politicians being targeted by Kashmir-based terror groups.
"We have specific information that terrorists are planning to kidnap the kith and kin of some select politicians so they can demand clemency for Mohammed Afzal. We also believe there could be fidayeen (suicide) attacks," a high-ranking official said.
Afzal, a prime accused in the 2001 Parliament attack, was given the death sentence by a Delhi court last month for his involvement in the conspiracy.
He is suspected to be part of the Jaish-e-Mohammed outfit, formed by Maulana Masood Azhar after he was released by Indian authorities in exchange of passengers of Indian Airlines flight IC-814 in December 1999.
"This time it is not politicians who are on the terror radar but their family members. It is a change of strategy and we suspect they want to bargain for Afzal," added the official who requested anonymity while speaking.
The possibility of such an attack spurred the government to hold a high-level meeting on Wednesday on increasing security for important political leaders, including Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
The meeting, held to review the security cover of VIPs, including members of the Gandhi family, was chaired by union Home Minister Shivraj Patil and attended by National Security Adviser MK Narayanan, Home Secretary VK Duggal, Special Protection Group (SPG) Director BV Wanchoo and chiefs of both the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the National Security Guard (NSG).
While no one was willing to comment on what specifically transpired in the 90-minute meeting, sources privy to the discussions said the potential threat of abducting relatives of VIPs as a trade-off for Afzal figured prominently.
The threat perception was based on inputs given by intelligence agencies and some intercepts of both wireless and telephone conversations of terrorists.
"Since Eid celebrations are also a few days away, terrorists are desperate to carry out a major strike to create shock value," said the official.
Highly placed sources told that the motive of the terror groups was to garner support from the people of Jammu and Kashmir that has been witnessing violent protests against Afzal's hanging since last month.
In a rare interview, former chief minister Farooq Abdullah warned last week that the "nation will go up in flames" if the government gave the go-ahead for Afzal's hanging.
Abdullah further warned that the judges who sentenced Afzal would require protection as they would be murdered and relations between Hindus and Muslims would also deteriorate.
A follow-up to Wednesday's meeting has seen more deployment of personnel belonging to paramilitary forces around the diplomatic area in the capital and strengthening of security cordons around certain dignitaries.
"There are also inputs of possible fidayeen attacks on politicians and certain vital installations," added an official.
"Though we have taken all possible measures to ensure that plans of terrorists are foiled we are taking no chances. We are sufficiently trained for these jobs."
The Central Industrial Security Force is already guarding around 20 dignitaries while the second ring of security around the Prime Minister is manned by the CRPF.
Senior officials in these forces said 1,200 more men have been deployed to enhance the security ring for politicians and their family members.