KUALA LUMPUR/MANILA (Reuters) - A small al Qaeda-linked Islamist militant group has executed a Malaysian businessman held captive since May on the southern Philippine island of Jolo, the Malaysian government said on Wednesday.
The Philippine military earlier said it was investigating credible intelligence reports that Abu Sayyaf militants had beheaded Bernard Then on Tuesday.
On his Facebook page, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said he was shocked and sickened at the killing and demanded the perpetrators be brought to justice. Asked by Reuters if the man was beheaded, Deputy Home Affairs Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed would only say his death was "violent".
Philippine Brigadier-General Alan Arrojado, army commander on Jolo, said the Malaysian was killed in the town of Indanan.
While the execution is far to the south of the capital Manila, where world leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama are attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, it is a reminder of the security challenges small Islamist groups still pose to the Philippines.
Jolo is a stronghold of Abu Sayyaf, a group known for bomb attacks, kidnappings and beheadings. It frequently seeks ransom in return for freeing hostages.
The businessman and a Malaysian woman were abducted in May from a Chinese seafood restaurant in a coastal town in the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah, on Borneo island, and taken to Jolo.
Last week, Abu Sayyaf freed the woman after reports a ransom was paid for her release.
Arrojado said an earlier intelligence report indicated Abu Sayyaf planned to behead the man if a ransom was not paid.
In September, Abu Sayyaf kidnapped two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipino from an upscale beach resort in the southern Philippines. They have demanded 1 billion pesos ($21.21 million) for each of the captives.
(Reporting by Manuel Mogato and Praveen Menon; Editing by Dean Yates)