Unknown gunmen have kidnapped an Italian embassy security agent in Yemen's capital Sanaa, a Western diplomat and a Yemeni security official said.

The man was taken hostage from a street close to the mission in Hadda neighbourhood in southwestern Sanaa, the diplomat said on Sunday requesting anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

A security official in Sanaa confirmed to the AFP news agency that an Italian man was kidnapped and taken to an unknown destination. Police were working to identify and track the kidnappers, he said.

In Rome, a foreign ministry spokesman confirmed the kidnapping.

"We confirm that an Italian citizen working as a security agent at the embassy has been kidnapped," a ministry press officer said.

"The foreign ministry's crisis unit has been activated and is co-ordinating efforts for his release. We cannot supply any more information at this time, for risk of compromising rescue efforts," he said.

Foreigners are frequently kidnapped in Yemen by armed tribesmen, who use them as bargaining chips with the authorities.

More than 200 people have been abducted in Yemen over the past 15 years. The majority have been freed alive and well.

A French staffer with the International Committee of the Red Cross who was kidnapped in April in the northern port city of Hudaida was released earlier this month unharmed.

But a Swiss woman kidnapped by al-Qaeda fighters in March, also from Hudaida, remains a hostage.

Source: AFP