updated 1/5/2007 8:07:46 AM ET 2007-01-05T13:07:46

An American civilian contractor and two Iraqi translators have been taken hostage near the southern Iraqi city of Basra, Iraqi officials in Basra said Friday.

British military spokesman Capt. Ollie Pile confirmed a foreign contractor had been seized, but said he could give no further details and could not confirm that two translators had also been kidnapped.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor said he was aware of the reports. “We are currently in the process of determining the status and welfare of the American citizen,” he said.

Basra Gov. Mohammad al-Waili told 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 8 miles north of Basra, by gunmen 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.

The American and Austrian were working as guards for a security firm called Crescent Security Group. The 43-truck supply convoy they were guarding was apparently stopped by gunmen masquerading as police.

U.S. television showed a video of the five contractors this week, thought to have been filmed in recent weeks.

The governor blamed the kidnappings on failures within the security forces. “The weakness of some security forces is behind the recent wave of kidnappings,” Waili told Arabiya.

Iraqi security forces are believed to be heavily infiltrated by militants, especially Shiite militiamen who are often accused by Sunnis of carrying out extra-judicial killings against the minority community in Baghdad and elsewhere.

In Basra, an oil-rich Shiite city, various Shiite factions and militias are jockeying for position and infighting between them is more of a problem than sectarian attacks.

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