Safety and Security
The current Travel Warning for Mauritania warns U.S. citizens of the continued risks of traveling to Mauritania, and urges extreme caution due to activities by terrorist groups in the region, including Al Qaeda in the Lands of Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). As noted in the Department of State's Worldwide Caution dated February 19, current information suggests that al-Qaida, its affiliated organizations, and other terrorist organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in multiple regions across Africa. These attacks may employ a wide variety of tactics including suicide operations, assassinations, kidnappings, hijackings, and bombings.
As a result of perceived Western involvement in counterterrorism efforts, terrorist groups have declared their intention to attack Western targets in Mauritania and the region. It is possible that these terrorist groups will attempt retaliatory attacks against Western targets of opportunity. Al-Qaida, its affiliated organizations, and other terrorist organizations have previously conducted kidnapping of Westerners for ransom and suicide bombing attempts. The Mauritanian military continues to engage in action against these elements.
Because of terrorist activities in the vicinity, 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 of central Mauritania (east of Tidjika),
the eastern half of the Adrar region (east of Chinguetti), and
the Tiris-Zemmour region of northern Mauritania.
U.S. Embassy staff members are authorized to travel to these regions only in limited circumstances. Given threats by Al-Qaida, its affiliated organizations and other terrorist organizations, and because of indications of a desire to kidnap Westerners for ransom, U.S. citizens are urged to remain vigilant and be alert to surveillance or other risks to their safety. Faith-based organizations, regardless of their location, may also be particularly targeted.
Traveling Safely within Mauritania: Travelers should exercise prudence and caution when traveling in Mauritania. Be particularly vigilant when traveling by road outside of populated areas, even when traveling along main routes and highways. The U.S. Embassy discourages travel outside of urban areas unless in a convoy accompanied by an experienced guide, and even then only if equipped with sturdy vehicles and ample provisions. Driving outside of urban areas after dark is also strongly discouraged. The U.S. Embassy has received reports of banditry and smuggling in the more remote parts of Mauritania.
In Nouakchott and other major cities in Mauritania, there is an increased security presence and additional checkpoints. Police routinely conduct roadblocks at which they may ask for proof of identity and driver’s licenses. Travelers should be prepared for such inquiries by carrying identification at all times. These checkpoints should be respected, even if they appear to be unmanned. Drivers should stop, sound their horn, and pause for an adequate amount of time before proceeding through the checkpoint to avoid any type of confrontation. It is best to drive cautiously and be prepared to stop at short notice.
Travelers should be aware of their surroundings at all times and maintain good personal security practices, including always locking homes and cars, varying routes and times of travel, and maintaining a low profile. When going out, avoid being part of large, highly visible groups of Westerners (but do not travel alone), and avoid sitting in areas that are easily visible from the street when in restaurants or cafes. Be particularly alert when frequenting locales associated with Westerners, including cultural centers, social and recreation clubs, beach areas, and restaurants.
Landmines remain a danger along the border with the Western Sahara and travelers should cross only at designated border posts. Travelers planning overland trips from Mauritania to Morocco, Algeria, Senegal, or Mali should check with the U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott before setting out. For more information about travel in Mauritania, please see the section on Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.
Political Concerns: In September 2012, many countries around the world, including Mauritania, experienced political demonstrations protesting the controversial YouTube video and cartoon. Also, several political opposition parties have joined together as the Coordination of the Democratic Opposition, and organize regular demonstrations in the capital of Nouakchott seeking the departure of President Aziz. Although the political rallies are generally calm and peaceful, the possibility of political instability or spontaneous violent protests remains. In addition, deteriorating economic conditions could cause civil unrest. Some previous protests in Mauritania have turned violent. An anti-government group calling itself the Youth of February 25 Movement held a series of protests in the capital of Nouakchott in 2011 calling for political, economic, and social reform. A separate group, Do Not Touch My Nationality, organized several demonstrations in 2011 over alleged discrimination in a national registration drive in Nouakchott and in smaller towns throughout Mauritania. Most of these demonstrations turned violent and one protestor was fatally shot by security forces during a September 2011 protest in Maghama. The demonstrations were generally announced in advance in the media and on the Internet. U.S. citizens are urged to avoid political rallies and street demonstrations, and to maintain security awareness at all times.