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Mauritania Travel Warning

Issued by US Department of State

Mar 11, 2011

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of traveling to Mauritania and urges extreme caution when traveling there due to increased activities by the terrorist group Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). AQIM continues to demonstrate its intent and ability to conduct attacks against foreign nationals, including U.S. citizens. The U.S. Department of State also recommends against all non-essential travel to the Hodh El Charghi and Hodh El Gharbi regions; the eastern half of the Assaba region (east of Kiffa), the eastern half of the Tagant region, as well as the Zemmour region of Mauritania, and strongly discourages travel to unpopulated areas of eastern Mauritania. This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning for Mauritania, which was issued on December 8, 2010, to update information on security incidents and remind travelers of security concerns.

As noted in the Department of State's Worldwide Caution dated January 31, 2011, AQIM has been designated as a terrorist organization by both the United States and the European Union. AQIM has declared its intention to attack Western targets.

On February 2, 2011, Mauritanian security forces successfully prevented a car bombing in the capital city, Nouakchott, by intercepting and destroying a vehicle containing large quantities of explosive materials. All passengers in the vehicle were killed when the vehicle exploded during the engagement with Mauritanian security forces. A second vehicle containing explosive materials was found abandoned in Rkiz, in southern Mauritania. Mauritanian authorities apprehended the passengers of the abandoned vehicle before they were able to escape into Senegal. AQIM claimed responsibility for both of these attempted car bombings.

On July 22, 2010, Mauritanian security forces, with French technical assistance, conducted a raid against an AQIM camp in northern Mali resulting in the killing of six AQIM members. In retaliation, AQIM claimed responsibility for the killing of a French hostage on July 24, who had been abducted in Niger in April. As a result of perceived Western involvement in the raid, it is possible that AQIM will attempt additional retaliatory attacks against Western targets of opportunity. The Mauritanian military also engaged in further military actions against AQIM elements in northern Mali in late September 2010.

On August 24, 2010, a suicide bomber attacked a Mauritanian military barracks in Nema. On December 19, 2009, two Italian citizens were kidnapped while traveling near Kobenni, in eastern Mauritania, and in November 2009, three Spanish NGO workers were kidnapped from their vehicle while driving from Nouadhibou to Nouakchott. A suicide bombing near the French Embassy in Nouakchott, on August 8, 2009, injured two French guards and one Mauritanian citizen. The bomber is believed to have acted on orders from AQIM. On June 23, 2009, a private U.S. citizen was shot and killed in Nouakchott in an apparent kidnapping attempt by individuals associated with AQIM. Terrorists also killed 11 Mauritanian soldiers out on patrol approximately 40 miles from the northern town of Zouerate in September 2008. The Israeli Embassy and an adjoining nightclub frequented by Westerners were attacked in Nouakchott in February 2008. In December 2007, terrorists shot and killed four French tourists and wounded a fifth near the town of Aleg in southeastern Mauritania. Two days later, terrorists killed four soldiers near the town of El Ghallaouiya in northern Mauritania. The perpetrators of these attacks are all believed to be linked to AQIM.

As a result of safety and security concerns, some NGO and private aid organizations have withdrawn staff and/or temporarily suspended operations in Mauritania. Faith-based organizations operating in Mauritania, regardless of location, may be particularly targeted. Travel by U.S. Embassy staff members outside of Nouakchott is reviewed in advance by the U.S. Embassy’s security office and requires advance approval. Travel which has been authorized in such fashion is subject to cancellation at any time.

Travelers should avoid all non-essential travel to the Hodh El Charghi and Hodh El Gharbi regions of southeastern Mauritania, the eastern half of the Assaba region (east of Kiffa), the eastern half of the Tagant region of central Mauritania (east of Tidjika), and the Zemmour region of northern Mauritania due to increased AQIM activities in these areas. Travel in the unpopulated areas of eastern Mauritania (areas east of Zouerate and Chinguetti and north of Nema) is strongly discouraged due to the threats of terrorism and banditry. U.S. Embassy staff members are authorized to travel to these regions only with Mauritanian government escorts.

U.S. citizens driving in Mauritania are reminded to heed warnings to stop at security checkpoints and should be particularly vigilant when traveling by road outside of populated areas, even when traveling along main routes and highways. U.S. citizens should not venture outside urban areas unless in a convoy and accompanied by an experienced guide, and even then only if equipped with sturdy vehicles and ample provisions. Driving after dark outside of urban areas is strongly discouraged. There have been reports of banditry and smuggling in the more remote parts of Mauritania. Landmines remain a danger along the border with the Western Sahara. Travelers should cross borders only at designated border posts.

Given AQIM's threats to attack western targets in Mauritania and the region, and due to indications of a desire to kidnap Westerners for ransom, U.S. citizens should remain aware of their surroundings at all times and maintain good personal security practices, including always locking their homes and cars, vary routes and time of travel, and avoid drawing attention to themselves. When going out, they should avoid being part of large, highly visible groups of Westerners, and sitting in areas that are easily visible from the street when in restaurants or cafes. U.S. citizens should be particularly alert when frequenting locales associated with Westerners, including hotels, cultural centers, social and recreation clubs, beach areas, and restaurants. Additionally, U.S. citizens should avoid highly publicized events/venues with no visible security presence.

The U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott strongly encourages U.S. citizens who travel to or remain in Mauritania, despite this Travel Warning, to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) so you can receive the most up-to-date security information. You should remember to keep all of your information in STEP up to date. It is important during enrollment or updating of information to include your current phone number and current email address where you can be reached in case of an emergency.

U.S. citizens should consult the Consular Specific Information sheet for the Republic of Mauritaniaand the Worldwide Caution, both located on the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs website. Up-to-date information on travel and security in Mauritania may be obtained from the Department of State by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free within the United States and Canada or, for callers outside of the United States and Canada, on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. You can also stay up to date by bookmarking our Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which contains the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts as well as the Worldwide Caution. Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page facebook as well.

The U.S. Embassy is located between the Presidency building and the Spanish Embassy on Rue Abdallaye. The postal address is B.P. 222, Nouakchott, telephone (222) 4-525-2660/2663, 4-525-1141/45, or 4-525-3038 (ext. 5441), and fax (222) 4-525-1592. For after-hours emergencies, please call (222) 4-525-3288 or visit the U.S. Embassy Nouakchott web site. In the event of an emergency that interrupts mobile phone (SMS) or Internet communication in Mauritania, U.S. citizens may call the Embassy's dedicated Consular emergency recording at 4-222-525-3707 to receive the most up-to-date instructions.

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