PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A severed head believed to be that of Malaysian hostage Bernard Then was found near a municipal council building on Jolo Island in the Philippines on Tuesday (Nov 17) evening, according to southern Philippine police officials.
Jolo police chief Major Junpikar Sitin told The Star that a street sweeper found the head inside a sack with the words "Bernard Then Ted Fen" at Marina Street at Barangay Wall City in Jolo about 8.30pm on Tuesday.
He said they immediately cordoned the area off and took the head away for preservation at about 10.30pm.
"We have turned over the head to the military task force for preservation and DNA tests," he said.
Major Sitin said the military doctors at the brigade camp in Jolo were now preserving the head pending a DNA test with Mr Then's family.
He could not tell why the 39-year-old Sarawakian engineer was executed while negotiations were going on for his release.
"We are still investigating," he said, adding that only a DNA test could ascertain the death of Mr Then.
The body of Mr Then, who was beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf terror group at about 4pm on Tuesday, was reportedly buried not far from the vicinity of Barangay Tanan in Indanan, where he was mostly held during his more than six months of captivity.
Intelligence reports from Jolo indicated that he was executed by the Abu Sayyaf faction led by Idang Susukan in Indanan following a week-long deadline given to meet the demand for higher ransom that was made during the release of Sabah restaurant owner Thien Nyuk Fun on Nov 9.
The reports also stated that the beheading occurred when the Philippines military intensified its operations against the Abu Sayyaf in the Indanan area.
Brigadier-General Alan Arrojado, commander of the Joint Task Group Sulu, who confirmed that Mr Then was beheaded, also said the body had been immediately buried near where the beheading took place.
He said that the beheading occurred as the military was launching an artillery attack on the hostage-takers' position in Jolo.
He said efforts were now being made to locate Mr Then's remains.
Mr Then was grabbed along with Sahaban Thien Nyuk Fun, 50, from the Ocean King Seafood Restaurant in Sandakan on May 15.
Ms Thien was released on Nov 8 and has kept a low profile since her return to Sabah as she recovers from the ordeal.
Susukan's group, which also included Abu Sayyaf sub-commanders Alden Bagade, Angah Adji and Ahabsy Misaya, had been insisting on a full ransom payment of 60 million pesos (S$1.8 million) for the two hostages instead of 30 million pesos, which was purportedly paid for the release of Ms Thien.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, in a Facebook post on Wednesday, said he and all Malaysians were "shocked and sickened" by Mr Then's murder, condemning it "in its strongest terms" and extending his prayers and condolences to the victim's family and friends.
"We call upon the authorities to take action against those who have perpetrated this savage and barbaric act and ensure that they are brought to justice. We will also extend our full cooperation to relevant agencies and authorities in charge of the investigation of this incident," he added.