The US Department of State warns its citizens of the risks of traveling to Mauritania, and urges extreme caution for those who choose to travel to Mauritania, because of 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 US citizens. This replaces the Travel Warning for Mauritania, issued on October 10, 2011, to update information on security incidents and remind travelers of security concerns.
The US 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), 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 to Westerners by AQIM.
As noted in the Department of State's Worldwide Caution, 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 counter-terrorism efforts, AQIM has declared its intention to attack Western targets. It is possible that AQIM will attempt retaliatory attacks against Western targets of opportunity. While military intervention has moved active terrorist operations to the Malian border regions, AQIM-affiliated support systems for logistics and information are present in Mauritania. Additionally, the rebellion and subsequent coup in Mali have given terrorist groups such as AQIM the opportunity to establish territorial claims in the contested region of northern Mali. 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. This culminated in the June 2009 attempted kidnapping and murder of a private US citizen in the capital.
Although there have been no known direct attempts against US citizens since 2009, AQIM continues to threaten Westerners. It has also focused its actions on Mauritanian military installations and personnel. The Mauritanian military continues to actively engage in action against AQIM elements, particularly along the border regions with Mali.
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, private aid organizations, and Peace Corps withdrew staff and/or temporarily suspended operations in Mauritania. Faith-based organizations operating in Mauritania, regardless of location, may be particularly targeted.
Travel by US Embassy staff members outside of Nouakchott requires advance approval from the US Embassy's Regional Security Officer (RSO). Travel which has been authorized in such fashion is subject to cancellation at any time. Travel to the eastern half of Mauritania occurs only with Mauritanian government escorts.
Given AQIM's threats against Western targets in Mauritania and the region, and its desire to kidnap Westerners for ransom, US 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. US citizens should be particularly alert when frequenting locales associated with Westerners, including hotels, cultural centers, social and recreation clubs, beach areas, and restaurants. Additionally, US citizens should avoid highly publicized events/venues with no visible security presence.
US 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. US 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.