German, Italian Aid Workers 'Kidnapped in Pakistan'

Masked gunmen kidnapped a German aid worker and his Italian colleague overnight in Pakistan's central shrine city of Multan, local police said on Friday.

MULTAN, Pakistan — Masked gunmen kidnapped a German aid worker and his Italian colleague overnight in Pakistan's central shrine city of Multan, local police said on Friday.

The two men, one an Italian and the other a German national, were working for an NGO helping flood victims and were reportedly taken by armed men.

The kidnappings bring to six the number of Westerners abducted since July in nuclear-armed Pakistan, where US forces last year killed Osama bin Laden and which stands on the frontline of a Taliban insurgency.

"Three gunmen barged into a house and abducted an Italian and a German national at gunpoint on Thursday evening," Multan city police officer Aamir Zulfiqar Khan told AFP by telephone.

"The two men were working for a foreign non-government organisation."

There was no claim of responsibility for the abductions in Multan, which is about about 400 kilometres (250 miles) southwest of the capital Islamabad and which in the past has not been considered dangerous for Westerners.

It is the largest city in central Punjab province, known for its Sufi shrines, mosques and historic tombs. Southern Punjab is considered a recruiting ground for Taliban and other extremist Islamist groups.

The Italian foreign ministry confirmed that one of its citizens had been kidnapped in Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province that borders India, but did not release any other details.

It said it was in "permanent contact" with the man's family and had activated its crisis unit, but called for discretion and cooperation from the media "so as not to compromise efforts at freeing our compatriot".

Italian news agency ANSA said the kidnapped foreigners work for an aid group that helps flood victims in the region -- which required them to dress like Pakistanis -- and were reportedly taken by armed men.

The German foreign ministry said Berlin was "aware of the reports and is the process of verifying them in cooperation with the Pakistani authorities".