MOGADISHU, Somalia – Dozens of heavily armed gunmen kidnapped two Italian aid workers and their Somali colleague in southern Somalia on Wednesday in what a government official described as a "terrorist act."
Police are pursuing the kidnappers, government spokesman Abdi Haji Gobdon said.
"The kidnapping of two Italian aid workers and a Somali aid worker is a terrorist act. We condemn this barbaric act," Gobdon told The Associated Press.
The gunmen, armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, surrounded the aid workers' house in Awdhigle, village elder Ahmed Yunis said.
The gunmen then blindfolded the relief workers — an Italian man and woman and a Somali man — and took them away, Yunis said. He said it was not clear who the gunmen are or why they abducted the aid workers.
The village is about 45 miles south of the capital, Mogadishu.
Islamic insurgents vowed to target foreign aid workers after a U.S. missile strike killed the head of the Islamist al-Shabab militia, Aden Hashi Ayro, and 24 other people earlier this month. Ayro was reputed to be the top al-Qaida commander in Somalia and was linked to a string of attacks on foreign aid workers and journalists.
Italy's ambassador in neighboring Kenya, Pierandrea Magistrati, said that the Italian aid workers were taken from their home Wednesday morning and worked for the Italian aid organization Cooperazione Italiana Nord Sud.
"They've been kidnapped and we do not know where they are. We are checking with our contacts there (in Somalia)," Magistrati told The Associated Press. The ambassador said that so far the kidnappers have not made contact.
No country has an embassy in Somalia because of security reasons, and most embassies in neighboring Kenya are also responsible for dealing with Somalia.
Last month, a Briton and a Kenyan worker contracted to an aid agency were kidnapped and remain missing. Earlier this year, Doctors Without Borders pulled out its foreign staff from Somalia after two of them were kidnapped, and three foreigners and a Somali were killed when their car hit a land mine.
A German aid worker was also seized in February but released unharmed.
The insurgents have been battling the shaky transitional government since Somali soldiers and their Ethiopian allies ousted them from the capital in December 2006. The Islamists had ruled Mogadishu and much of southern Somalia for six months.
Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and turned on each other. The conflict between the government and the Islamists is complicated by a web of clan loyalties and the involvement of archenemies Eritrea and Ethiopia, which use Somalia as a proxy battleground.