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Mauritania Travel Warning

Issued by US Department of State

Oct 12, 2011

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of traveling to Mauritania, and urges extreme caution for those who chose to travel to Mauritania due to increased activities by the terrorist group al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). AQIM continues to demonstrate its intent and ability to conduct attacks against foreign nationals, including U.S. citizens. This replaces the Travel Warning for Mauritania, issued on March 11, 2011, to update information on security incidents and remind travelers of security concerns.

As noted in the Department of State's Worldwide Caution dated July 26, 2011, AQIM has been designated as a terrorist organization by both the United States and the European Union. 

As a result of perceived Western involvement in counterterrorism efforts, AQIM has declared its intention to attack Western targets. It is possible that AQIM will attempt retaliatory attacks against Western targets of opportunity. The Mauritanian military continues to engage in action against AQIM elements.

On June 24, 2011, Mauritanian security forces conducted a raid against an al-Qaida camp in the Wagadou forest region in Northwestern Mali, with assistance from the Malian army. The offensive resulted in the death of 15 AQIM members. On July 5, AQIM retaliated by attacking a military base in Bassiknou, near Nema, in southeastern Mauritania. After a counter-strike by Mauritanian forces, the attackers fled towards Mali. 

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 explosives. A second vehicle containing explosive materials was found abandoned in Rkiz, in southern Mauritania. Mauritanian authorities apprehended the passengers of the abandoned vehicle. AQIM claimed responsibility for both attempted car bombings.

On August 24, 2010, a suicide bomber attacked a Mauritanian military barracks in Nema.

On July 22, 2010 Mauritanian security forces, with French technical assistance, conducted a raid against an AQIM camp in northern Mali. In retaliation, on July 24, AQIM claimed responsibility for the killing of a French hostage abducted in Niger in April.

On December 19, 2009, two Italian citizens were kidnapped by AQIM agents 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. On August 8, 2009, AQIM perpetrated a suicide bombing near the French Embassy in Nouakchott, injuring two French guards and one Mauritanian civilian. On June 23, 2009, AQIM terrorists shot and killed a U.S. citizen in an apparent kidnapping attempt in the capital city of Nouakchott. 

In September 2008, terrorists killed 11 Mauritanian soldiers while on patrol approximately 40 miles from the northern town of Zouerate. In February 2008, the Israeli Embassy and an adjoining nightclub in Nouakchott frequented by Westerners were attacked by terrorists associated with AQIM. 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 believed to be linked to, and to have acted on orders from, 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 requires advance approval from the U.S. Embassy’s security office. Travel which has been authorized in such fashion is subject to cancellation at any time.

Travelers should avoid all non-essential travel to the Mali border regions; 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 (east of Tidjika); the eastern half of the Adrar region (east of Chinguetti); as well as the Zemmour region of northern Mauritania. 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 on western targets in Mauritania and the region, and their 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, varying routes and times of travel, and maintaining a low profile by not 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) to receive the most up-to-date security information. Please keep all of your information in STEP current. It is important when enrolling or updating information to include multiple phone numbers and email addresses to facilitate communication in the event of an emergency.

U.S. citizens should consult the Country Specific Information sheet for the Republic of Mauritania and the Worldwide Caution, both located on the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs website. Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook as well. If you don't have internet access, current information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States, or for callers from other countries, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).  

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, 4-525-1141/1145, or 4-525-3038, and fax (222) 4-525-1592. For after-hours emergencies, please call (222) 4-525-3288 or visit the U.S. Embassy Nouakchott website. 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 (222) 4-525-3707 to receive the most up-to-date instructions.

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