PETALING JAYA - Terrorism experts have warned that some 20 South-east Asian terror outfits have pledged loyalty to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
They also warned that ISIS militants are targeting wealthy businessmen in Malaysia and it is essential for the country to step up preventive security.
Some observers said that bodyguards are expected to step up security to safeguard their clients.
Malaysian Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said last week that ISIS has plans to kidnap tycoons and rob banks in Malaysia to finance its terrorist activities.
"They have not finalised the targets, but we believe they have started planning the crimes," he said during a joint interview with Chinese dailies in Malaysia.
Dr Ahmad Zahid said ISIS needed large amounts of funds and had thus set its sights on kidnapping wealthy businessmen. He said the list of names could not be revealed yet and urged tycoons to be extra careful about their security.
A former policeman who is now working as a private bodyguard said bodyguards in the country would be more alert and increase manpower to ensure the safety of their clients. "I have seen that the police have set up roadblocks in many places. This shows that the authorities have initiated preventive actions."
It is understood that a business tycoon in Malaysia typically hires two to three bodyguards, while more notable tycoons may have up to eight bodyguards by his side whenever he goes out, of whom five will be close to the client, with the other three in the vicinity.
A former bodyguard said that if terrorists, with their sophisticated weapons, try to kidnap a person, "even an armed bodyguard will find it hard to confront the assaulters".
"Most importantly, we must get regular updates from the police, such as whether there are armed individuals infiltrating the country. Such information will help us plan our strategies," he said.
Star CMS Security Services managing director Tan Joon Kiang said that, although demand for bodyguards is on the rise in Malaysia, the police are efficient enough that the public would not need to be excessively worried about safety.
He said business tycoons seldom visit places that are crowded, and would visit only more exclusive and less crowded shopping malls. This will make it easier for bodyguards to watch for suspicious figures in the vicinity.
Some businessmen feel that hiring bodyguards alone will not provide complete security, as they can be betrayed by their bodyguards and drivers.
A local Chinese businessman told Sin Chew Daily he used to hire some bodyguards, but that gave him even more stress as his whereabouts were at their fingertips. He later stopped hiring bodyguards and avoided going out at night.
"Even without a terrorist threat, we still need to be wary of robbers. I normally do not carry valuables when going out," he said.
Bilveer Singh, adjunct senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University's Centre of Excellence for National Security, said ISIS was global in nature and anyone could be a potential target, including Malaysia.
He said it is evident ISIS has started attacking targets worldwide, including in Paris, Sydney and other cities.
"They do not carry out their operations en masse, but in small groups of one to three people, and could even be lone-wolf operations," he said.
The Federation of Chinese Associations Malaysia (Hua Zong) president Pheng Yin Huah is worried that the Home Minister's warning could spark widespread panic among local businesses and this would not augur well for the country's economic development.
He said Dr Ahmad Zahid should have relayed the message to possible ISIS targets in closed-door meetings.
"The ISIS threat is not something that can be addressed by hiring security staff. The government must step up its effort to combat terrorism. The government has the obligation to ensure the safety of all Malaysians," he added.