An Islamist group linked to al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for kidnapping seven foreigners in an attack in a remote Nigerian town at the weekend.

Ansaru militants used explosives to blast their way into a housing compound in Jama'are in Bauchi state late on Saturday.

They killed a security guard and abducted a Briton, an Italian, a Greek and four Lebanese workers after storming the compound of Lebanese construction firm Setraco.

"By Allah's grace (we) have the custody of seven persons, which include Lebanese and their European counterparts working with Setraco," Ansaru said in a statement

The group has kidnapped other foreigners in Nigeria in the past.

The kidnapping was "based on the transgression and atrocities done to the religion of Allah by the European countries in many places such as Afghanistan and Mali," the group said.

Attacks by Islamist groups in northern Nigeria have become the biggest threat to stability in Africa's top oil producer.

Western governments are increasingly concerned about Islamists in Nigeria linking up with groups elsewhere in the region, including al Qaeda's North African wing AQIM, especially given the insecurity in nearby Mali.

In the Jama'are housing compound, walls were strewn with bullet holes and empty cartridges lay on the floor as police searched the deserted Setraco site.

The remaining foreign workers abandoned their homes and fled to safer areas in Nigeria.

Islamist fighters first attacked a police station and a prison, burning vehicles to immobilise security officials, before striking the compound in a coordinated attack, the Setraco compound security manager said.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said this morning that he is very concerned about the kidnap and is in touch with the Nigerian authorities.