Police killed two suspected members of the outlawed Jaish-e-Mohammed group in a sprawling New Delhi park late Saturday, hours after explosives were seized and three people arrested elsewhere in the city.
The actions in the capital came after paramilitary soldiers in Indian-controlled Kashmir said they killed the Jaish chief in India, Ghazi Baba. Ghazi Baba was suspected of masterminding a December 2001 attack on India's Parliament that brought nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan close to war.
Police Joint Commissioner Niraj Kumar said the militants were part of a plot to target "something spectacular," like important political figures or "symbols of national importance like the India Gate and Red Fort, something like that."
"The exact target would have been disclosed to them by Jaish headquarters a short time before the actual strike," he told reporters.
Islamic militants have targeted the 17th-century Red Fort — a symbol of Indian nationalism — in the past. India Gate, a stone arch built in the memory of Indian soldiers who died in World War I, is a major tourist site in the capital.
The Indian Border Security Force, which raided Ghazi Baba's hideout in Kashmir, said it also had learned about a possible attack by Jaish rebels in the capital, Aaj Tak television channel reported.
Jaish-e-Mohammed is one of the most-feared among a dozen Islamic groups fighting security forces for independence for India's portion of Kashmir or its merger with mostly Muslim Pakistan.
Security officials often identify Islamic militants from documents found on their bodies, such as hotel bills, letters, family photographs and identity cards.
There was no way to independently verify the identities of the men killed and arrested Saturday night. However, Kumar said the arrested men had confessed to their identities and told police the vehicle license plate number of their accomplices, who were later killed in an ambush. The three were arrested under India's tough anti-terrorism law, he said.
Police arrested two more men Sunday morning in Bulandshahar, a town 60 miles east of New Delhi. That raid stemmed from information from the men arrested Saturday and documents found on the bodies of those killed, Kumar said.
The police action came days after two car bombings in Bombay, India's financial capital, that killed 52 people and injured 150 at a tourist hub and a busy market area.
New Delhi has been on high alert since the Bombay terrorist attacks. Media reports have quoted police as saying that Islamic militants were plotting attacks in the Indian capital, prompting tougher security checks on vehicles coming into the city.
It was not immediately clear whether the weekend actions would have an impact on shaky peace efforts between India and Pakistan. India accuses Pakistan of aiding, training and funding the separatist guerrillas in Kashmir, a charge denied by Islamabad.
The South Asian nuclear rivals have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, the Himalayan region both claim in its entirety. More than 63,000 people have been killed since the insurgency began in 1989.