Gunmen abducted a Briton working for a children's charity in war-torn Somalia, snatching him from inside a compound near the Ethiopian border as fighting raged between rival factions on Friday.
The unnamed victim, who also has Zimbabwean nationality, was taken along with a local fixer late Thursday. The fixer was later released unharmed.
Witnesses and colleagues said the pair had been taken in the Adado region on Thursday night when heavily armed men in three vehicles burst into their compound. Security guards put up no resistance and no shots were exchanged.
"Save the Children can confirm that a British national and a Somali national working with the agency were taken by armed gunmen on Thursday night from a guesthouse compound in Adado..," spokeswoman Anna Ford said.
"We are extremely concerned about the welfare of those being held and urgently call upon whoever is holding them captive to release them unconditionally," she said.
Ford explained that the organisation had been assessing the possibility of establishing a relief programme for malnourished children and their families in the area.
However, the fixer, a Somali national, later phoned AFP to confirm he had been freed.
"I am free but I don't know where I am. I don't have a car to get to a town. I am in the middle of nowhere," he said by phone without giving more details.
A British diplomat said the embassy was investigating reports of the abduction as humanitarian sources confirmed that he had joint British and Zimbabwean nationality.
Adado town was engulfed by heavy clashes Friday morning when fighters of the Sufi sect Ahlu Sunna attacked and captured the town from a local militia that had been controlling it.
There were reports Ahlu Sunna fighters had been preparing the attack and the fighting had nothing to do with the overnight abduction of the Briton.
"We have been attacked and I?m at war with militants..," said Mohamed Aden Ticey, the self-proclaimed president of Himan and Heeb region whose capital is Adado.
"There was heavy fighting in Adado this morning and the Sufi group militants took control of the city," said local elder Mohamed Hassan Abdallah. "They are now in full control."
Abdi Ali, another Adado resident, said: "We were not expecting that there could be fighting in the town. Everybody found the town in chaos this morning under the sound of machine-gun fire and anti-aircraft weapons."
Other elders said the Al Qaeda-inspired Shebab insurgents were in turn preparing to attack the Ahlu Sunna gunmen whom they have previously fought in other regions.
"We are getting information that Shebab fighters are preparing an attack against the Sufi militants who took control of Adado and there is tension all over the region," said Muhidin Isak, another elder.
The Himan and Heeb region is relatively calm but borders an area controlled by Shebab Islamists to the south while Somali pirates operate to the east.
Somalia has not had a central authority since plunging into a civil war with the 1991 ouster of former president Mohamed Siad Barre and has since been largely governed by rival armed groups.
Gangs thriving on the lawlessness have often kidnapped foreign aid workers, forcing many humanitarian groups to pull out foreign staff while the Shebab have banned operations of several relief organisations in regions they control.
Source: AFP Global Edition