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U.S. State Department issues Mauritania travel warning

The U.S. Department of State warns 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 U.S. citizens or other foreign nationals. Most recently in a presumed terrorist action, three Spanish NGO workers were kidnapped from their vehicle while driving from Nouadhibou to Nouakchott on November 29, 2009. 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 Alert for Mauritania, which was issued on September 1, 2009, to remind travelers of security concerns.

As noted in the Department of State’s Worldwide Caution dated July 29, 2009, 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 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 these safety and security concerns, Peace Corps has temporarily suspended its volunteer program in Mauritania. The State Department, Peace Corps, and Embassy Nouakchott are continually evaluating the security situation in preparation for a return of the Peace Corps’ volunteer program at the first possible opportunity.

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 Mauritarian 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 cultural centers, social and recreation clubs, beach areas, and restaurants.

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