Manila - Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Wednesday that a man held for months by Islamic militants in the southern Philippines had been murdered, condemning what he called a "savage and barbaric" act.
Najib's comments came after the Philippine military said it was working to verify reports that Malaysian national Bernard Then had been beheaded by the Islamic militant group Abu Sayyaf, which is known for its kidnappings for ransom.
"I, the government, and all Malaysians are shocked and sickened by the murder of our countryman Bernard Then, and we condemn it in its strongest terms," Najib said in a statement on his Facebook page.
Najib, now in Manila for an Asia-Pacific summit, called for "action against those who have perpetrated this savage and barbaric act and ensure that they are brought to justice."
Then, a 39-year-old engineer, was abducted in May from a seaside restaurant in Malaysia's Sabah state, across from the southern Philippines. A Malaysian woman, Thien Nyuk Fun, was seized along with him.
They were taken by boat to the strife-torn southern Philippine island of Jolo.
Thien was released last week following negotiations. A ransom was reportedly paid.
Philippine military spokesman Colonel Restituto Padilla said Then was killed after ransom talks collapsed.
"The (military) and (police) headquarters have indeed received news about the inhuman, barbaric and brutal incident in the island of Jolo," he said, referring to the apparent beheading.
He denied the killing had any link to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum that opened on Wednesday in Manila, attended by top world leaders including US President Barack Obama.
Founded in the 1990s with the help of late Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama Bin Laden, the Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for some of the Philippines' worst terror attacks, including bombings and kidnappings for ransom.
The Abu Sayyaf last year pledged allegiance over the Internet to the Islamic State group that slaughtered 129 people in Paris on Friday.
There was so far no indication that Then's killing was related to the Paris attacks.
Many analysts believe the Abu Sayyaf has little in common with the Islamic State group ideologically, and may have merely been seeking to associate itself with the radical extremist movement's rising profile.
The Abu Sayyaf usually prefers to hold foreign captives for lengthy periods, sometimes years, in exchange for ransoms.
It is believed to have just a few hundred gunmen, but thrives in lawless sections of the southern Philippines, where Muslim rebels have for decades fought for independence or autonomy.
If reports of the manner of his murder are true, Then will be the second foreigner to have been beheaded by the group.
The other was Guillermo Sobero, an American who was killed after being kidnapped among a group of people from a Philippine resort in 2001.
Philippine authorities say the militant group is holding two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipina seized in September, as well as a Dutch bird-watcher abducted in the same region in 2012.
They are also widely believed to be holding an Italian pizza restaurant owner snatchded in October.
The Abu Sayyaf has staged cross-border raids into Malaysia before, including in April 2000 when gunmen seized 21 European and Asian tourists from a dive resort. They were released in batches after a ransom was paid the following year.