Kidnappings for ransom are relatively common in Somalia, considered one of most lawless places in the world [EPA]

Armed men have kidnapped a Western foreigner in central Somalia's Galmudug region, local government and military officials have said, adding they believed the assailants might be linked to a pirate gang.

Colonel Mohamed Hussein, a local military official, said the hostage had been part of a two-man group who had been in the region under the pretext of being journalists, but that their exact mission was unclear.

"He was kidnapped by his own guards. We understand the clan militia have a link with a pirate leader in Haradheere," Hussein said, in reference to a pirate base just south of Hobyo.

"Gunmen kidnapped the foreigner and we understand they took him to Hobyo," Abshir Dini, interior minister of the semi-autonomous region, told the Reuters news agency.

A minister from the Galmudug administration told the Associated Press the kidnapped man was a US engineer who came to Somalia to carry out an evaluation for building a deep water port in the town of Hobyo.

The gunmen severely beat the foreigner's Somali companion when he begged them not to take the man, said the minister, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A staff member at the Embassy Hotel, where the man was staying, told AP  the American had gone to the airport to drop off an Indian colleague. The hotel said that the man had both American and German citizenship.

Commander killed

Kidnappings for ransom are relatively common in the Horn of Africa country, considered among the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, aid workers and private contractors to work in.

In October, gunmen kidnapped a US woman and a Danish man working for the Danish Demining Group in Galkayo. They are still being held.

At least four aid workers, a French military official, a British tourist taken from Kenya and hundreds of sailors are currently being held captive.

Meanwhile, the Islamist group al-Shabab, said one of its foreign commanders was killed during an airstrike on Saturday.

The vehichle of Hilal al-Barzawi, a British-Lebanese, was struck by a missile, killing him and two others, Sheikh Ali Rage, a spokesman for the armed group, said.

"This afternoon unmanned aircrafts bombed and killed our brother Hilal Al Barzawi from Lebanon with British citizenship who fought in Somalia for a long time," Rage told reporters

Barzawi was a close assosciate of the late al-Qaeda operative Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the mastermind behind the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, he said

Source: Agencies