Story highlights

The Two Spaniards and an Italian are kidnapped overnight

Spain's Foreign Ministry says it has contacted the families of the two nationals

The Italian Foreign Ministry confirms the kidnapping of its national, a woman

MADRID, Spain CNN  — 

Two Spaniards and an Italian were kidnapped overnight in Algeria from a Western Sahara encampment where they were providing aid, officials said Sunday.

Spain’s Foreign Ministry said it has contacted the families of its two nationals, a man and a woman, but declined to provide details about them or the circumstances of the kidnapping.

The Italian Foreign Ministry also confirmed the kidnapping of its national, a woman.

The abductions occurred in the Raguni refugee encampment in the Algerian province of Tinduf, across the border from Western Sahara, a territory in dispute between Morocco and the Polisario Front.

Spanish news reports – citing Spanish aid organization colleagues of the two Spaniards kidnapped – said there apparently were shots fired during the kidnapping and that at least one of the three captives may have been injured.

Numerous Spanish nongovernmental organizations provide assistance to Western Sahara, and Spanish aid workers travel regularly to the encampments.

There was no immediate confirmation about the kidnappers, but some Spanish media noted that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has been active in the area.

Spain formally withdrew as the decades-long colonial power in Western Sahara in 1976, shortly after the Moroccan king led a “green march” with

350,000 Moroccan civilians into the territory to lay claim to it.

A guerrilla war with the Polisario Front – a group made up of mostly Saharawis, which favors Western Sahara independence – ensued and was finally halted, after more than a decade, in 1991, through a United Nations-brokered cease-fire, according to the CIA World Factbook.

A U.N.-organized referendum on the territory’s final status has been repeatedly postponed.

Morocco has presented an autonomy plan to the United Nations, but the Polisario countered with an independence plan for the territory’s 405,000 people, who are Muslims of Arab or Berber descent.