An Italian tourist has been abducted by suspected Islamic militants in the North African country's remote southern desert, the country's official news agency said Friday.

The woman was heading toward the southern town of Alidena when militants armed with automatic weapons began following her in all-terrain vehicles, the APS news agency said. The group captured the tourist but released her guide and a cook.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, is active in the area and has often abducted foreign tourists.

The Italian Foreign Ministry said it could not immediately confirm the report, which did not identify the woman. The APS report said the captors allowed her to call the agency that organized her trip to tell them she had been abducted.

Al Qaeda's North African branch operates throughout the vast arid region, from Mauritania to Chad.

It has its roots in an extremist Islamic group in Algeria that brokered an alliance with the terror network in 2006. Since then, AQIM has kidnapped more than a dozen Europeans including tourists and aid workers.

Members of the group stormed a heavily guarded residential compound in northern Niger late last year, seizing five French hostages and two others. AQIM gunmen also abducted two Frenchmen from a restaurant in Niger's capital last month, and the men were found dead less than 24 hours later.