Three Europeans have been abducted, and one person of unknown nationality was killed, during an armed kidnapping in the fabled city of Timbuktu in northern Mali, according to local security officials.

According to reports, the four people were dining in a restaurant in the central square of the ancient city when gunmen burst into the establishment. The murder victim was shot in the head when he attempted to resist the gunmen’s demands to go with them.

The incident is believed to be the first time foreigners have been so abducted in Timbuktu, which has been a haven for tourism. However, the prior day, two French geologists were kidnapped by armed men in the village of Hombori in the eastern part of the vast desert country in West Africa.

French soldiers have combined with Mali army forces to search for the French kidnapping victims, reported Agence France Presse (AFP). They have been identified as Philippe Verdon and Serge Lazarevic, according to AFP.

The pair was sent by the Mande Construction Immobiliere to take soil samples in the region where the company planned to construct a cement factory.

The owner of the hotel where the men were seized told Radio France International: [The gunmen] told me they hadn't come for me but for the white men. They told me not to shout or do anything. I showed them the room and then they tied me up. I heard one of the Frenchmen shout and I saw traces of blood.

BBC reported that the recent abductions have likely been carried out by the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) terrorist group, which has bases in the northern desert wastes of Mali. Fighters linked to Al-Qaeda have in the past transported Western hostages into northern Mali from other countries. For example, four Frenchmen were taken from neighboring Niger in September and reportedly taken to Mali, where they are still being detained. BBC reported that two other Westerners, comprising two Italians and two Spaniards, are also believed to be held in the northern part of Mali.

Many foreign countries, including Britain, had advised its citizens to avoid travelling to northern Mali because of the prevalent risk of kidnapping.

Terrorists have been involved in kidnaps in the region, on a number of occasions leading to the murder of the hostages, the UK Foreign Office said in a statement. We believe that further kidnap attempts are likely.”