Some local officials have been quoted as saying that the tourists’ behavior last month on Mount Kinabalu, which many in the area consider sacred, may have caused an earthquake on Friday that left 18 people on the mountain dead.
The Western tourists — a Canadian brother and sister, a British woman and a Dutch man, who range in age from 22 to 24 — were ordered held for four days while an investigation is conducted, according to their lawyer, Ronny Cham. They could face jail terms of up to three months, Mr. Cham said.
The four were part of a group of 10 trekkers who, after breaking away from a larger group, began to disrobe and take photographs, news reports said. Malay Mail Online reported that they insulted a guide who tried to stop them.
After the magnitude 6 earthquake struck on Friday, killing 18 climbers, some officials were quoted as agreeing with the local sentiment that the tourists’ nudity had angered the mountain and contributed to the earthquake.
“There is almost certainly a connection. We have to take this as a reminder that local beliefs and customs are not to be disrespected,” said Joseph Pairin Kitingan, deputy chief minister of the Malaysian state of Sabah, which includes Mount Kinabalu, Malay Mail Online reported.
Sabah’s tourism minister, Masidi Manjun, has spent days in an online debate with another climber believed to be one of the 10 who disrobed. That trekker, Emil Kaminski, mocked the assertion that the quake was connected to his group’s behavior.
In a video titled “Trolling Malaysia,” he asked how Mr. Masidi had managed to to get a government position if he did not “know anything about plate tectonics, geology and seismology.”
Mr. Kaminski, who posts online travel videos reflecting what he calls an “often offensive, earthy essence of backpacking experience,” said he had received thousands of angry comments and even some death threats from Malaysians.
Neither Mr. Masidi nor Mr. Kaminski responded to requests for interviews on Wednesday. Mr. Kaminski wrote Wednesday morning on Twitter that he had boarded a flight departing Sabah. It was unclear whether he was still in Malaysia.
Mr. Cham, the lawyer for the four foreigners, said that the police were looking for the other six who had been in the group that disrobed but that some might already have left the country.