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Mauritania 2014 Crime and Safety Report

Africa > Mauritania; Africa > Mauritania > Nouakchott

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

Crime is not unlike crime in any major city in the United States. Most incidents occur in the cities and larger towns and consist of petty crimes, such as purse snatching and the theft of visible high value items left in vehicles. The Department of State rates crime as Medium. 

Residential burglaries occur but predominantly in homes with poor security, such as accessible windows, unlocked doors, or those not staffed by a guard. 

Violent crimes, including those involving the use of weapons, do occur, though crimes involving firearms are rare. Rapes and assaults have occurred and, in some instances, have involved American expatriates. The majority of sexual assaults have occurred against women traveling alone, at night, in isolated areas, and in taxi cabs. 

Recent crimes involving Westerners in Nouakchott have included:

Thefts of radios from unattended vehicles (April 2013);
Theft of vehicles (July 2013);
Snatch-and-grab thefts of worn pocketbook/purses (two reported instances in fall 2010);
Attempted assault of a Western female exercising at the Olympic Stadium. A young man tried to grab her; she yelled out for help, scaring the man away (fall 2010).
A Swiss female was sexually assaulted at night after entering a taxi occupied by several male passengers (October 2007). An American was sexually assaulted in southern Mauritania in January 2006, and there were two other sexual assaults against Americans between 2003 and 2006.
A Western diplomat in Nouakchott was carjacked without injury (November 2007). Prior to this, the most recent carjacking was in 2004. 

Overall Road Safety

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Defensive driving is imperative. Many drivers pay little attention to traffic laws. In larger Mauritanian cities, low-speed traffic accidents are common, resulting in minor injuries to people and superficial damage to vehicles. If you get into an accident, the law requires that you leave the vehicles in place until a police officer arrives and instructs you to move the vehicles. 

Drivers are advised to drive with the doors locked and to avoid all distractions. Traffic volume can be very heavy at frequently used intersections. In addition, the poor state of repair of many vehicles means that some drivers must drive slowly. This leads to faster vehicles cutting in and out of traffic. These factors, coupled with pedestrians crossing streets, require the constant attention of the driver. 

A traffic police unit was deployed in June 2011 to direct traffic at major intersections in Nouakchott. The Groupement Général de la Sécurité des Routes (GGSR) intends to expand into the other major towns throughout Mauritania in the coming years.


In Nouakchott, it is strongly advised not to use taxis and public transportation due to the lack of regulation of fares and poor regular maintenance. Women are more susceptible to sexual assaults when travelling in taxis, especially at night.

Travel between major cities can also be dangerous. There are four major roads leaving Nouakchott, all of which are two lanes and constructed from asphalt and are in varying condition. The roads to Nouadhibou and Atar leave Nouakchott to the north. The Road of Hope (also known as the road to Kiffa or Nema) leads to the east, and the road to Rosso travels to the south. Due to the sparse vegetation north of Nouakchott, travel along the roads toward Nouadhibou and Atar is somewhat safer than travel east or south. The land north of the capital is relatively flat along the roadway, allowing for excellent visibility and the ability to rapidly exit the roadway, if need be, to avoid a collision. However, the Road of Hope and road to Rosso are frequently bordered by villages and grazing livestock. This combined with rapid changes in elevation limits visibility and creates numerous driving hazards, such as pedestrians and wandering animals. The road condition itself is poor. Travel between cities at night is strongly discouraged. It is also advisable to ensure that a friend/relative has a copy of your itinerary with instructions to alert the authorities if you are significantly overdue.

Vehicle services, such as fuel and repairs, are limited outside Nouakchott. Be sure your vehicle is in working order. Gas stations often do not have large quantities of fuel, and unleaded gas may not be available, as diesel is commonly used instead of gasoline. All visitors planning travel outside of Nouakchott are strongly advised to bring a handheld GPS, satellite phone, spare tires, gas, and adequate food/water should their vehicle break down.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence 

In recent years, global events -- such as Israeli-Palestinian relations, Libya, the French intervention in Mali, and anti-Islamic videos/publications -- have given groups in Mauritania platforms to organize protests.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

The terrorist organization al-Qai’da in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is present in Mauritania. In the past decade, there have been several attacks, including the killing of four French tourists in Aleg (December 2007) and the massacre of a dozen Mauritanian military personnel outside of Tourine (September 2008), attributed to the group. More recently, AQIM claimed responsibility for the July 2009 murder of an American citizen living in Nouakchott; a suicide bombing outside of the French Embassy in August 2009; and the kidnapping of three Spanish aid workers travelling at night to Nouakchott from Nouadhibou in December 2009. 

Mauritania experienced its first car bomb in August 2010 when a VBIED detonated outside a military barracks in Nema. In February 2011, security forces prevented a car bombing in Nouakchott by intercepting and destroying a vehicle containing large quantities of explosives. A second vehicle containing explosive materials was found abandoned in Rkiz. Authorities apprehended the passengers of the abandoned vehicle. AQIM claimed responsibility for both attempted car bombings. On June 24, 2011, Mauritanian security forces, with assistance from the Malian army, conducted a raid against an al-Qai’a camp in the Wagadou forest region in northwestern Mali. The offensive resulted in the death of 15 AQIM members. On July 5, AQIM retaliated by attacking a military base in Bassiknou, in southeastern Mauritania. After a counter-strike by Mauritanian forces, the attackers fled toward Mali. 

Civil Unrest

Some cities has seen demonstrations numbering in the thousands during periods of major developments on global issues. These demonstrations are generally peaceful and do not seem to target Westerners. However, anti-Israeli protests in Nouakchott in late December 2008 featured higher levels of violence. During the first week of 2009, Nouakchott saw two days of violent clashes between police and protestors, resulting in injuries to both sides. There were no reported injuries to Westerners and no apparent targeting of Western-owned businesses or expatriates, other than verbal harassment. 

The Israeli Embassy in Nouakchott closed in 2010. The early months of 2011 saw relatively large protests in Nouakchott that echoed other North African and Middle Eastern “Arab Springs.” Some of these protests were violent, but none turned deadly. Spontaneous protests occurred in smaller cities. These movements did not target Americans or American interests. In the summer of 2013, violent protests broke out between laborers and business owners in Nouakchott that forced police to respond with tear gas and forced riot police to disperse protestors; the unrest lasted two days, though the protests were not continuous.

Religious or Ethnic Violence

While a variety of religions are practiced, the country is predominately Muslim. In 2009, local Mauritanian killed an American expatriate who was believed to be proselytizing. Travelers should be take care with religious publications and consider carefully making religious statements in public places. Any non-Islamic religious materials should be kept out of site at all times.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Due to Mauritania's location at the far western end of the Sahara Desert, the most important environment concern is maintaining an adequate supply of water. 

Dust and sand are ubiquitous and affect health, machinery, and air quality. Sandstorms are more common during the winter months. During a sandstorm, take shelter in a building or vehicle with all windows closed. 

Nouakchott lacks a storm water system; therefore, after rain storms in the fall, the streets flood, and standing water can remain for days or weeks until the city pumps it or it evaporates. Standing water has proved fatal when exposed to open or unprotected power lines. 

Industrial and Transportation Accidents

There have been no major industrial accidents in recent history. However, Nouakchott and Nouadhibou both maintain deep water ports, and there are several large-scale mining facilities and infrastructure projects throughout the country. This, coupled with the relative lack of infrastructure and few government-imposed safety controls, lead to favorable conditions for an industrial accident to occur. Minor accidents in the mines occur, and any individual with a major medical emergency is flown out of Mauritania for treatment unless the emergency is immediately life threatening.

Regional Travel Concerns and Restricted Travel Areas/Zones

The U.S. Embassy does not list any neighborhoods as "off limits" but advises prudence moving in and around Nouakchott. Since most streets are not named and residences do not have addresses, it is best to travel with a friend or trusted guide until you learn your way around. It is best to have a cell phone with you in case you get lost. Americans are advised to avoid the areas surrounding mosques during Friday prayers and the areas south of the Moroccan Mosque. 

In general, no areas are openly hostile to Westerners. However, there are greatly varying levels of resentment to Westerners in each city. Therefore, Westerners are advised to pay close attention to the local mood and should only stay overnight in pre-planned locations. Americans are strongly discouraged from travelling during nighttime hours. 

The U.S. Department of State recommends against 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 (east of Tidjika); the eastern half of the Adrar region (east of Chinguetti); as well as the Zemmour region of northern Mauritania. Americans travelling intrastate are advised to travel in at least a two-vehicle convoy, to not allow themselves to be separated, to avoid travel after dark, and to inform the Embassy of travel plans. The most up to date messages for American citizens are posted on the U.S. Embassy website at http://mauritania.usembassy.gov/legal-information.html.

Drug-related Crimes

Although the use of illicit drugs mainly centers on marijuana and prescription medications, drug smuggling into Morocco and the Canary Islands occurs. The number of crimes related to drug use, trafficking, and smuggling has increased over the past 12 months but does not typically involve violence specifically directed toward Westerners. 

Kidnapping Threats

Foreign tourists have been targeted and kidnapped in Mauritania, although none since 2009. Additionally, Mali and Niger have seen several kidnappings in recent years, all involving AQIM. 

Police Response

As a rule, police response in Nouakchott, and especially in outlying areas, is slow, if not non-existent. Although phone numbers for reporting crimes to police do exist, Westerners are encouraged, if possible, to present themselves in person at the nearest police station. 

While you are in Mauritania, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. Criminal penalties will also vary. 

Westerners, in general, receive favorable treatment from local police. Most government agencies recognize both the financial and infrastructure benefits of having Westerners in Mauritania and extend some measure of additional courtesy. However, few law enforcement officials will be conversant in English, preferring French, or more likely Hassaniya, the local Arabic dialect.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Westerners have been arrested. If you are arrested, it is best to cooperate with the authorities and request U.S. Embassy consular assistance. 

Where to Turn to for Assistance if you Become a Victim of Crime

Local Police Contacts by Region (all numbers use the "222" country code):

Nouakchott Central Commissariat : 4525-2158, 4525-2159

Hodh Charghi 
DRS (Regional Security Director): 4513-0364
Hodh Gharbi 
DRS: 4515-1210
Aioun Police Station: 4515-1333
Tintane Police Station: 4515-5009
Couboni Police Station: 4515-8333
Goghi Police Post: 4515-8142

Assaba 
DRS: 4563-2277
Kiffa Police Station: 4563-2214
Guerrou Police Station: 4563-6220

Gorgol 
DRS: 4533-5207
Kaedi Police Station: 4533-5251, 4533-5229
Maghama Police Station: 4533-0205

Brakna 
DRS: 4553-7363
Aleg Police Station: 4553-7475
Boghe Police Station: 4550-8741
Bababe Police Station: 4550-6304
Maghtalahjar Police Station: 4552-0402

Trarza 
DRS: 4556-9149
Rosso Police Station: 4556-9238
Ferry Police Post: 4556-9221
Boutilimit Police Station: 4554-0103

Adrar 
DRS: 4546-4321
Atar Police Station: 4546-4229
Atar Airport Police: 4546-5008

Inchiri 
DRS: 4576-1475
Akjoujt Police Station: 4576-1314

Tagant 
DRS: 4569-9141

Guidimaka 
DRS: 4534-4322
Selibaby Police Station: 4534-4237

Tiris Zemmour
DRS: 4544-0365
Zouerate Police Station: 4544-0187

Dakhlet Nouadhibou
DRS: 4574-5523
Nouadhibou Central Police: 4574-5634
Nouadhibou Airport: 4574-5319
Jedida Police Station: 4574-6100
Takhtit Police Station: 4574-7979
Leweina Police Station: 4574-5694
Jedida II Police Station: 4574-7303
Nouadhibou Immigration Police: 4574-5514

Various Police/Security Agencies 

Law enforcement in urban areas is the responsibility of the police, or Surete Nationale. The police are organized into Commissariats, roughly the equivalent of a precinct. Some larger cities, such as Nouakchott, will have several Commissariats, each covering a specific area of the city. 

Law enforcement outside of towns is the responsibility of the gendarmerie, which patrols the major highways and operates a majority of the checkpoints throughout the country. The Mauritanien Gendarmerie is part of the Ministry of Defense and has three main missions: law enforcement, defense, and administration. Their goal is to cover all main roads and waterways.

Guard Nationale falls under the Ministry of the Interior but is considered a part of the Mauritanian armed forces. The National Guard has three main missions: defense of the territory by protecting vital installations, ministries, foreign missions, VIP security for Mauritanian officials, and maintaining order.

The Group General de la Securite des Routes (GGSR) was established on July 20, 2010 under the Ministry of Interior. Their responsibilities include urban vehicle control and searches, control of main roads, enforcement of traffic laws, management of vehicle documents, registration, and control of people transiting the country.

Medical Emergencies

Medical facilities in Mauritania are limited. Americans travelling in Mauritania are encouraged to secure air ambulance plans with their insurance company. Some medicines are difficult to obtain from local pharmacies; travelers are advised to carry their own supplies.

Contact Information for Recommended Local Hospitals and Clinics

There is only one modern clinic or hospital outside the capital, in Chinguetti. The military hospital could be used in the event of a severe emergency and Clinique Chiva for urgent care and some medical emergencies. If emergency medical service is required, visitors can proceed directly to the Clinique Chiva where there is a doctor on duty 24/7. The Clinique Chiva is located one street from the restaurant "Le Petit Cafe" traveling in the direction of Pizza Lina (northwest). Turn right (northeast) on the first street past "Le Petit Café.” Clinique Chiva is the large building on the left side. Tel: 4525-1325 or 4525-8080. If after hours, ask for the Medcine de Garde. OR you can contact Dr. Mohamed Ould Tolba, Tel: 3628-1000 or Dr. Daha Ould Taghi, Tel: 3712-0355 or 3655-4054. They do not speak English.

Air Ambulance Services

There are no air ambulance services operating out of Mauritania. However, private SOS air medevac services are available through private insurance plans. 

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance 

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC website (http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/mauritania). For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information. 

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Crimes/Scams

Westerners should be on their guard for anyone offering to serve as a guide or expediter. Although such people do exist, they rarely make contacts in public places. It is advisable to set up a guide in advance of your arrival and to transact only with individuals who come recommended by a trusted source.

Areas to be Avoided 

In Nouakchott, the U.S. Embassy does not list any neighborhoods as "off limits" but advises prudence. Since most streets are not named and residences do not have addresses, it is best to travel with a friend or trusted guide until you learn your way around. It is best to have a cell phone with you in case you get lost. Americans are advised to avoid the areas surrounding mosques during Friday prayers and the areas south of the Moroccan Mosque. 

The beaches should be avoided at night despite the increase National Gendarmerie patrols, which has reduced the crime threat.

Best Situational Awareness Practices 

In order to reduce exposure to theft and to increase personal safety, lock up valuable items and keep them out of sight. Walking alone is discouraged, especially for Western women. 

Westerners are advised to pay close attention to the local mood and should only stay overnight in pre-planned locations. Americans are strongly discouraged from travelling during nighttime hours.

Avoid changing money in the open market. It is suggested that you do it in a bank, hotel, or other established business with a physical location. Use cash to avoid fraudulent credit card charges. Exchange U.S. dollars to local currency may be difficult; Euros may be easier.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation 

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 Embassy 

Embassy Contact Numbers

All numbers use the "222" country code:

Main Embassy Line: 4525-2660/2663, 4525-1141/45, or 4525-3038 (ext. 5441)
Marine Security Guard Post One: 4525-2660 ext. 4400 or 4525-3288 (direct)
Emergency Consular Recording (during emergency situations): 4525-3707

Regional Security Officer (RSO): 4525-2660 x4738 (office) or DS_RSO_Nouakchott@state.gov 

If you are going to live in or visit Mauritania, please take the time to tell our Embassy about your trip via Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (https://travelregistration.state.gov). If you enroll, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency. 

The U.S. Embassy encourages U.S. citizens to remain vigilant in light of events in Mali and the potential for retaliatory actions, to include kidnaping for ransom, toward Westerners. Americans are encouraged to make use of commercially available SOS trackers or personal locators while traveling in Mauritania. U.S. citizens in Mauritania should review the current Worldwide Caution, specifically the portion on West Africa, and the recent Travel Warning for Mali available on travel.state.gov. 

OSAC Country Council Information

Mauritania does not have an OSAC Country Council.