By Mohamed Ahmed and Drazen Jorgic
MOGADISHU/NAIROBI (Reuters) - Somali and Kenyan troops rescued four foreign aid workers held hostage inside Somalia, three days after they were seized from a refugee camp in neighboring Kenya, the armies said on Monday.
Looking exhausted, the four flew into the Kenyan capital Nairobi where they exchanged hugs with colleagues after stepping off a military helicopter.
Friday's attack at the Dadaab refugee camp was the first abduction of foreigners from Kenya since the east African country sent troops into Somalia in October to crush al Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked militant group. A Kenyan driver was shot dead during the kidnapping.
"We are happy to be back. We are alive and we are glad this has ended," Qurat-Ul-Ain Sadazai, a Canadian of Pakistani origin, told reporters.
The four work for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). It named the other three as Glenn Costes from the Philippines, Steven Dennis from Canada and Astrid Sehl from Norway.
Colonel Abduallahi Moalim, a Somali military commander, said Somali government soldiers in the Lower Juba region that borders Kenya stopped a vehicle carrying supplies for the attackers on Sunday. The army seized three of the occupants who directed the force to the hostages being held near the border between the towns of Diff and Dhobley, he said.
"Our forces have rescued the four aid workers kidnapped from Kenya in an overnight rescue operation. They are healthy and unhurt," Moalim told Reuters.
Colonel Cyrus Oguna, spokesman for Kenya's military, said the two forces launched a joint operation after receiving intelligence as to the hostages' whereabouts.
"They are receiving medical attention. They are exhausted," he said. "There was a gunfight during the rescue and one gunman was killed and two escaped."
Kenya deployed troops in the Horn of Africa country days after two Spanish women working for Medecins Sans Frontieres were kidnapped at Dadaab in October. They are still being held.
"This is a day of relief for us and for the families of the abducted," Elisabeth Rasmusson, secretary general of the NRC, said in a statement.
Dadaab, 100 km (60 miles) from Somalia, was set up in 1991 to house Somalis fleeing violence at home. It has become the world's biggest refugee camp with almost 500,000 residents.
The sprawling camp has also been hit by a series of roadside bomb and grenade attacks which the Kenyan security forces have blamed on al Shabaab sympathizers.
Kenyan and Somali forces have gradually pushed al Shabaab fighters out of a number of strategic towns since the incursion in October, although they still hold the port city of Kismayu.
Analysts say al Shabaab may increase attacks within Kenya as it comes under greater pressure from Kenyan and Somali troops in the south of Somalia.
Masked assailants hurled grenades at two churches in a northern Kenyan town and opened fire on worshippers on Sunday, killing at least 17 people and wounding more than 60 in the worst attack in the country since the incursion.
(Additional reporting Victoria Klesty in Oslo and Richard Lough in Nairobi; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by David Clarke and Janet Lawrence)