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Mali Travel Warning

Issued by US Department of State

Feb 09, 2011

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risk of travel to Mali, and continues to recommend against all travel to the north of the country due to the kidnapping threats against Westerners. This replaces the August 6, 2010 Travel Warning for Mali and provides additional examples of violent acts carried out by the Islamic extremist group Al-Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the region.

As noted in the Department of State's Worldwide Caution dated January 31, 2011, AQIM, which has been designated as a terrorist organization by both the United States and the European Union, has declared its intention to attack Western targets. As of early July 2010, the Department has been aware of several separate sources of information suggesting AQIM’s ongoing interest in kidnapping Westerners in the Mali-Niger-Burkina Faso border area and as far south as Bamako. The U.S. Embassy in Bamako has issued several warden messages regarding these threats, as have the U.S. Embassies in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso and Niamey, Niger.

On January 5, 2011, an individual claiming connections to AQIM attacked the French Embassy in Bamako with a handgun and an improvised-explosive device. Two injuries were reported. On January 7, 2011, two French nationals were kidnapped in Niamey, Niger. They were found dead less than 24 hours later following a rescue attempt by French and Nigerien military forces. In September 2010, seven people, including five French citizens, a Togolese national, and a Malagasy citizen, were kidnapped by AQIM from the northern mining town of Arlit, Niger. All are still being held hostage by AQIM. On July 24, 2010, AQIM executed a French hostage in retaliation for the killing of six AQIM members during a Mauritanian-launched hostage rescue operation with French assistance in northern Mali. As a result of Western involvement in these operations, it is possible that AQIM will attempt retaliatory attacks against Western targets of opportunity.

AQIM has also claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of two Canadian citizen UN officials in Niger in December 2008, the kidnapping of four European tourists in January 2009 on the Mali-Niger border, the murder of a British hostage in Mali in June 2009, the murder of a U.S. citizen in Mauritania in June 2009, the suicide-bombing near the French Embassy in Mauritania on August 8, 2009, the kidnappings of three Spanish and one French citizen in November 2009, an Italian man and his wife in December 2009, and another French national (who was taken hostage in April 2009, and then murdered, as noted above). Two of the Spanish nationals are still being held hostage.

In addition to threats posed by AQIM and potential hostage takers, confrontations between the Malian military and Tuareg rebel groups occurred in Nampala along Mali’s border with Mauritania in December 2008 and in the region of Kidal in January 2009. The threat posed by AQIM, continued Tuareg unrest, sporadic banditry, and the porous nature of Mali’s northern borders with Algeria, Niger, and Mauritania all reinforce longstanding security concerns affecting travel to northern Mali.

The Department of State notes that the U.S. Embassy in Bamako has designated northern regions of Mali as “restricted without prior authorization” for purposes of travel by U.S. Government employees, contractors, grantees, and their dependents. Prior to traveling to these areas, U.S. Government employees in Mali are required to have the written approval of the U.S. Ambassador to Mali. This designation is based on the presence of AQIM as well as Tuareg rebel and banditry activity. This restriction does not apply to travelers who are not associated with the U.S. Government, but should be taken into account when planning travel. The restriction is in effect for the region of Kidal; the region of Gao including the road to Ansongo and the border with Niger; and the region of Timbuktu.

U.S. citizens are specifically reminded that these areas include Essakane -- the site of the popular Festival au Desert music festival -- as well as the sites in the regions of Kidal and Gao where many other musical and cultural festivals are traditionally held between December and February. It should be noted that - in addition to the potential terrorist and criminal threats - these festivals are located in particularly remote locations, and the Embassy would have extreme difficulty rendering assistance should an emergency occur at one of them.

The U.S. Embassy in Bamako strongly encourages U.S. citizens who travel to or remain in Mali despite this Travel Warning to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) so you can receive the most up-to-date security information. 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, and to update STEP whenever there is a change to your information.

U.S. citizens should consult the Country Specific Information sheet for the Republic of Mali and the Worldwide Caution, both located on the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs website. Up-to-date information on safety and security information is available toll-free at1-888-407-4747 from within the United States and Canada, or, at regular toll rates at 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside of the United States and Canada, from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). 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 on facebook as well.

The U.S. Embassy in Bamako is located at ACI 2000 at Rue 243, Porte 297. The Embassy's mailing address is B.P. 34, Bamako, Mali. The telephone number, including for after-hour emergencies, is (223) 2070-2300. The consular fax number is (223) 2070-2340.

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