United States Department of State
Bureau of Consular Affairs
Washington, DC 20520
March 12, 2014
The U.S. Department of State has issued a travel warning for Mauritania.
The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of traveling to Mauritania, and urges those who travel to Mauritania to exercise extreme caution because of activities by terrorist groups in the region, including 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 May 21, 2013, to update information on security incidents and remind travelers of security concerns.
The U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott recommends against all non-essential travel to the border regions of Guidimagha, the Hodh El Charghi and Hodh El Gharbi regions of southeastern Mauritania, the eastern half of the Assaba region (east of Kiffa), Tidjikja, the eastern half of the Tagant region (east of Tidjika), the eastern half of the Adrar region (east of Chinguetti), and the Zemmour region of northern Mauritania because of the security risk and the threat of kidnapping posed by terrorist groups to foreign nationals.
The United States and the European Union have both declared AQIM a terrorist organization. As a result of Western involvement in counterterrorism efforts, AQIM has declared its intention to attack Western targets. AQIM attempts at retaliatory attacks against Western targets of opportunity cannot be discounted. AQIM-affiliated support systems for logistics and recruitment remain present in Mauritania. This, coupled with the influx of tens of thousands of Malian refugees into Mauritania, presents additional safety and security concerns.
AQIM and terrorists believed to be affiliated with AQIM have been operating in Mauritania since at least 2005. Actions include kidnapping and murder of Western tourists, aid workers, and Mauritanian soldiers, as well as attacks on foreign diplomatic missions in Mauritania. In June 2009, AQIM attempted the kidnapping and murder of a private U.S. citizen in the capital city of Nouakchott.
Since then, AQIM has continued to threaten Westerners. A French citizen was kidnapped in southwest Mali, near the border with Mauritania, in November 2012. AQIM has also focused its actions on Mauritanian military installations and personnel. The Mauritanian government continues to maintain a strong stance against AQIM. In August 2010, a suicide bomber attacked a Mauritanian military barracks in Nema. In February 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. In July 2011, AQIM attacked a military base in Bassiknou, near Nema, in southeastern Mauritania. In December 2011, AQIM abducted a Mauritanian gendarme from his post near the eastern border with Mali.
As a result of safety and security concerns, some NGOs and private aid organizations withdrew staff and/or temporarily suspended operations in Mauritania. The Peace Corps officially closed its program in July 2011. Faith-based organizations operating in Mauritania, or individuals perceived to be proselytizing, may be particularly targeted.
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 refrain from 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 grocery stores, hotels, cultural centers, social and recreation clubs, beach areas, and restaurants. Additionally, U.S. citizens should avoid demonstrations and highly publicized events/venues with no visible security presence.
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, including redundant communications, as well as vehicle and first aid/medical supplies. 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. Note also that landmines remain a danger along the border with the Western Sahara. Travelers should cross borders only at designated border posts.
The U.S. Embassy 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). By enrolling in STEP, you will receive the most up-to-date security information, and make it easier to contact you in an emergency. 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.
For information on general crime and security issues, U.S. citizens should also consult the Department of State’s Country Specific Information for Mauritania, the Worldwide Caution, and the International Maritime Piracy Fact Sheet, which are located on the Department of State’s website. Travelers may obtain up-to-date information on security conditions by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444 from other countries. Stay up to date by bookmarking our Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which contains currentTravel Warnings and Travel Alerts. Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on 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, 4-525-1141/1145, 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 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 (222) 4-525-3701 to receive the most up-to-date instructions.