The three worked for Cooperazione Italiana Nord Sud (CINS), or North-South Italian Cooperation, an Italian aid organisation, whose website says it engages mainly in development work and emergency relief.

According to the elder, the third hostage was Abderahman Yusuf Arale, the local head of the Italian aid group.

 

In Rome, a foreign ministry spokesman confirmed the kidnapping of the two Italians.

  

"We are in contact with their families and we are following the situation with much attention," the spokesman said.

Hazardous conditions 

CINS is supported by the EU, UN and USAid. Aid officials were not immediately available for comment.

Aid workers, particularly foreigners, are being targeted more regularly in the Horn of Africa country.

Kidnappers are still holding two aid workers - a Kenyan and a Briton - seized in April in southern Somalia. Their location remains unknown.

In early May, a truck driver working for the World Food Programme in central Somalia was killed.

The spate of kidnappings and killings has complicated the delivery of aid to the most affected populations in Somalia, where the UN says one of the world's worst humanitarian catastrophes is unfolding.