The U.S. Department of State continues to warn 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 region, 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. Faith-based organizations operating in Mauritania, regardless of location, may also be particularly targeted. This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning for Mauritania, which was issued on December 2, 2009, to update information on security incidents and remind travelers of security concerns.
As noted in the Department of State’s Worldwide Caution dated February 12, 2010, 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 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.
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. On August 8, 2009, a suicide bombing near the French Embassy in Nouakchott 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.
Travelers should avoid all non-essential travel to the Hodh El Charghi region of southeastern Mauritania, 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 should not venture outside of 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 also strongly discouraged. There have been reports of banditry and smuggling in the more remote parts of Mauritania. Landmines also 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, varying routes and time of travel, and avoiding drawing attention to themselves. When going out, they should avoid being part of large, highly visible groups of Westerners, and avoid 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.
All U.S. citizens residing in or traveling to Mauritania are urged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s Travel Registration web site. By registering, U.S. citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency. 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) 525-2660/2663, 525-1141/45, or 525-3038 (ext. 5441), and fax (222) 525-1592. For after-hours emergencies, please call (222) 525-3288 or visit the U.S. Embassy Nouakchott web site.