MALAYSIAN Prime Minister Najib Razak on Wednesday said a Malaysian man held for months by Abu Sayyaf bandits Sulu in southern Philippines had been murdered, condemning what he called a “savage and barbaric” act.
Najib’s comments came after the Philippine military confirmed reports that Malaysian Bernard Then had been beheaded by his captors, the Islamic militant group Abu Sayyaf.
“I, the government, and all Malaysians are shocked and sickened by the murder of our countryman Bernard Then, and we condemn it in the strongest terms,” the prime minister said in a statement on his Facebook page.
“We call upon authorities to take action against those who have perpetrated this savage and barbaric act and ensure that they are brought to justice,” said Najib, who is currently in Manila for the Asia-Pacific Economic Coooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Summit.
The Abu Sayyaf is still holding several foreign hostages, including two Canadians, a Norwegian, an Italian and Filipinos kidnapped from other places and brought to Sulu.
The Malaysian was abducted from Sabah in May this year.
A woman who was abducted along with Then, Thien Nyuk Fun, was released last week after negotiations between the captors and authorities on both sides.
“The [military]and [police]headquarters have indeed received news about the inhuman, barbaric and brutal incident on the island of Jolo,” Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Col. Restituto Padilla said in a statement, referring to Then’s case.
He added that the Malaysian was killed after “failure of the negotiations about money.”
Padilla denied there was any link to the APEC forum being held in Manila and attended by top world leaders including US President Barack Obama.
The Then killing was unusual for the Abu Sayyaf, which has usually preferred to hold their foreign captives for lengthy periods, sometimes years, in exchange for ransom.
Philippine security officials confirmed the beheading of the 39-year-old Then a few hours after Prime Minister Razak arrived in Manila for the APEC summit.
Then was killed a week after rebels freed the 50-year old Thien, manager of Ocean King Restaurant in Sandakan, Sabah.
The manager was released in Indanan town, also in Sulu, after being held captive for six months.
Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the safe release of Thien was a result of successful negotiations between Malaysian authorities and her captors.
Thien was kidnapped along with Then after Abu Sayyaf gunmen raided the restaurant and took their captives to Tawi-Tawi province before eventually taking them to nearby Sulu province.
Thien’s release came six weeks after the Abu Sayyaf threatened to kill Then if their demand for P30-million ransom is not paid.
The Philippine government rejected the demand, saying it has a strict no-ransom policy.
Bernard’s head was recovered in Sulu and is now in the custody of local authorities.
A military source said Isnilon Hapilon, leader of the Abu Sayyaf, was wounded in a recent clash with government troops and is being pursued by security forces.