Mohammad al-Waili, the Basra governor, told al-Arabiya television the civilian contractor kidnapped was an American citizen of Iraqi origin, and that gunmen had seized him along with two Iraqis on Friday.

Police said the men were seized at a fake checkpoint near Hartha, around 12km north of Basra, by armed men in three cars who forced them from their vehicle.

Four Americans and an Austrian civilian contractor were kidnapped near Basra in mid-November and are still missing.