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Mauritania 2017 Crime & Safety Report

Africa > Mauritania; Africa > Mauritania > Nouakchott

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy Nouakchott does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED NOUAKCHOTT AS BEING A CRITICAL-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Please review OSAC’s Mauritania-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

Crime Threats

In the last 18 months, there has been a sharp increase in crime, to include a number of home invasions and a dramatic increase in violent muggings involving knives and handguns. Rapes and assaults have occurred and have involved the American community. Walking alone at any time is discouraged, especially for foreigners and is expressly forbidden for U.S. Embassy personnel.

Crimes involving foreigners in Nouakchott have included:

  • Thefts of bags from unattended (but locked) vehicles.
  • Snatch-and-grabs from vehicles stopped in traffic with unlocked doors
  • Home invasion of American School Director. The resident woke up to find an unidentified individual in his bedroom. The suspect ran away.
  • Home invasion of an American diplomat. He was asleep in his bedroom with the safehaven door locked. An unknown number of individuals came in through a second story window from the roof and emptied the house of valuables.
  • Armed mugging of American female whose identifying documents were taken.
  • Armed mugging of an American teacher walking to school. Her bag was stolen, and she was cut with a knife.
  • Home invasion of a Foreign Service family. The individuals were asleep in the master bedroom with the safehaven door closed and locked. An individual came in through a second story window from a neighbor’s roof, after cutting the window bars, and removed many valuables from the residence.


Cybersecurity Issues

In 2016, Mauritania’s sole Internet provider was the victim of a cyberattack that shut down the Internet for approximately three days and severely slowed the system down when it resumed working.

Other Areas of Concern

The Department of State recommends against all non-essential travel to the following areas:

  • The Mauritania-Mali border
  • 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)
  • The Zemmour region of northern Mauritania.

U.S. Embassy staff members are authorized to travel to these regions only with Embassy-provided security support. Americans traveling between cities are advised to always travel with at least a two-vehicle convoy, to not allow themselves to become separated, to avoid travel after dark, and to inform the State Department and the Embassy of their travel plans.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Travel between major cities can be dangerous. There are four major roads leaving Nouakchott, all of which are two lanes and constructed from asphalt. 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 Nouakchott is relatively flat along the roadway, allowing for excellent visibility and the ability to exit the roadway to avoid a collision. However, the Road of Hope and road to Rosso are frequently bordered by villages, livestock grazing land, and steep drops at the edge of the roadway. This combined with rapid changes in elevation limits visibility and creates driving hazards (pedestrians and wandering cattle, camels, donkeys, goats, and sheep). The U.S. Embassy allows travel outside of the city for staff members, but all trips require approval, a minimum of two cars, and handheld GPS, satellite phone, spare tires, gas, and adequate food/water. It is also advisable to ensure that a friend or relative has a copy of ones itinerary with instructions to alert the proper authorities if the traveler(s) is significantly overdue. Vehicle services (fuel, repairs) are limited outside of Nouakchott. Gas stations often do not have large quantities of fuel or it may not be available, so diesel vehicles are recommended.

Travel between cities during the night is strongly discouraged. Night time driving between cities is not allowed for Embassy personnel.

Roads in/out of cities are poorly maintained and can be dangerous to drive on, especially during inclement weather.

Public Transportation Conditions

A majority of sexual assaults have occurred at night in taxi cabs. Combined with the lack of government regulation of taxi fares and poor maintenance, visitors should avoid taxis and public transportation. Almost all taxis and other forms of public transportation are poorly maintained and in very poor condition. U.S. Embassy personnel are not allowed to use public transportation.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Nouakchott has a new international airport. Flights are routinely cancelled, and luggage is frequently lost. Mauritania built a new airport that moved the former handling capacity of 250,000 passengers a year to 2.5 million passengers a year.

Terrorism Threat

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED NOUAKCHOTT AS BEING A MEDIUM-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

Al-Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) operates in Mauritania, but there have been no successful terrorist attacks since 2011. Since October 2014, there have been a number of cases of Mauritanians self-radicalizing and pledging allegiance to ISIS. Those who have done so publically have been arrested and incarcerated. In 2016, individuals pledging allegiance to ISIS planned an attack against U.S. Embassy Nouakchott. The plan was disrupted and individuals involved were arrested by the police.

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

In late 2016, U.S. military personnel were intentionally rammed in traffic and boxed in by two vehicles. One of the vehicles followed them for almost 30 minutes, pulling off only after the U.S. vehicle arrived at a Mauritanian military base.

The U.S. Ambassador also received a threat via Facebook that stated, “If we get closer to Allah by killing Ambassadors, someone should really look at killing Ambassador Larry Andre.” A local “poet” has called for the death of Western Ambassadors and others who, in his opinion, support apostasy.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED NOUAKCHOTT AS BEING A HIGH-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Civil Unrest

Spontaneous protests occur on a weekly basis. Usually, most protests consist of no more than 400 people and are generally non-violent and peaceful. Protests by the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement, an active anti-slavery and “Haratine rights” NGO, are almost always met by tear gas and police batons, regardless of the size of the protest.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Mauritania is predominately a Muslim country, and in order to be a citizen, one must be Muslim. Travelers should take care with personal religious publications and consider carefully before making religious statements in public places.

  • A demonstration in December 2016 reached close to 15,000 people, demanding the death penalty be upheld for a young blogger who made statements many considered to be blasphemous.
  • In January 2015, after the terrorist attacks in Paris against Charlie Hebdo, Mauritanians held an Anti-Charlie Hebdo rally that saw more than 6,000 people gather at the French Embassy.
  • In March 2014, violent protests and widespread civil unrest occurred in Nouakchott over the reported desecration of a Quran. Police countered the violent protests by deploying tear gas and implementing anti-riot tactics. The riots resulted in the death of one protestor, hundreds of other injuries and arrests, and property damage. It was later determined a goat ate the pages of the Quran.


Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

A primary concerns center on maintaining an adequate supply of water. Nouakchott lacks a storm water system; therefore, after rain storms (August-November), the streets flood, and standing water can remain for weeks until the city pumps it or it evaporates.

Dust and sand are ubiquitous and affect health, machinery, and air quality. Sandstorms are more common during the winter. During storms it is recommended that you take shelter in a building or vehicle with all windows closed.

Critical Infrastructure

Roads are often in disrepair, water drainage is non-existent, and overall construction is poor and not adequate by U.S. standards.

Privacy Concerns

Mauritania has no data privacy laws.

Personal Identity Concerns

Same-sex relationships are illegal. If convicted of homosexual acts, men are sentenced to death by stoning. Homosexual acts by two women are punished with three months to two years of imprisonment and a fine.

Racism is rampant and an integrated part of Mauritanian culture. Mauritania was the last country in the world to outlaw slavery (in 1981); however, no criminal laws enforcing the ban on slavery were passed until 2007. In 2016, Mauritania prosecuted their first slavery case.

Drug-related Crimes

Although the use of illicit drugs in Mauritania mainly centers on marijuana and prescription medications, drug trafficking from the south into Morocco and the Canary Islands and from Algeria to Senegal does occur. Crime related to smuggling does not typically involve violence toward Westerners. There has been an increase in crime related to illegal drug use.

Kidnapping Threat

There have been kidnappings of Europeans in Mauritania but not in the last five years. Mali and Niger have seen several such acts in recent years, all involving AQIM.

Police Response

As a rule, police response in Nouakchott, and especially in outlying areas, is slow at best and, at times, non-existent. Almost no law enforcement official will be conversant in English, preferring French, or more likely Hassaniya, the local Arabic dialect.

U.S. citizens should carry identification/passport. There have been instances of foreigners being singled out for questioning and detention by authorities, even when carrying valid passports.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Westerns have been arrested in Mauritania, often simply for walking in locations other foreigners do not frequent. If you are detained or arrested by the Mauritanian authorities, cooperate with the authorities and insist on being put in contact with the U.S. Embassy.

Crime Victim Assistance

Although phone numbers for reporting crimes to police do exist, visitors are encouraged, if possible, to present themselves in person at the nearest police station.

U.S. citizens, in general, receive favorable treatment from Mauritanian police. Most government agencies recognize both the financial and infrastructure benefits of having foreigners, particularly business people, in Mauritania and extend some measure of additional courtesy.

Police/Security Agencies

National police by region (all numbers use the "222" country code)

Nouakchott Central Commissariat: 4525-2158, 4525-2159

 

Hodh el-Charghi: DRS (Regional Security Director): 4513-0364

 

Hodh el-Gharbi: DRS: 4515-1210

Aioun Station: 4515-1333

Tintane Station: 4515-5009

Couboni Station: 4515-8333

Goghi Post: 4515-8142

 

Assaba: DRS: 4563-2277

Kiffa Station: 4563-2214

Guerrou Station: 4563-6220

 

Gorgol: DRS: 4533-5207

Kaedi Station: 4533-5251, 4533-5229

Maghama Station: 4533-0205

 

Brakna: DRS: 4553-7363

Aleg Station: 4553-7475

Boghe Station: 4550-8741

Bababe Station: 4550-6304

Maghtalahjar Station: 4552-0402

 

Trarza: DRS: 4556-9149

Rosso Station: 4556-9238

Ferry Post: 4556-9221

Boutilimit Station: 4554-0103

 

Adrar: DRS: 4546-4321

Atar Station: 4546-4229

Atar Airport Police: 4546-5008

 

Inchiri: DRS: 4576-1475

Akjoujt Station: 4576-1314

 

Tagant: DRS: 4569-9141

 

Guidimaka: DRS: 4534-4322

Selibaby Station: 4534-4237

 

Tiris Zemmour: DRS: 4544-0365

Zouerate Station: 4544-0187

 

Dakhlet Nouadhibou: DRS: 4574-5523

Nouadhibou Central Police: 4574-5634

Nouadhibou Airport: 4574-5319

Jedida Station: 4574-6100

Takhtit Station: 4574-7979

Leweina Station: 4574-5694

Jedida II Station: 4574-7303

Nouadhibou Immigration Police: 4574-5514


Law enforcement within urban areas is the responsibility of the police or Surete Nationale. Surete Nationale has responsibility for crime within the city and provides personnel for Embassy Protection Units. The police are organized into commissariats, roughly the equivalent of a precinct in the U.S. Some larger cities such as Nouakchott will have several commissariats, each covering a specific geographic area.

Law enforcement outside of towns is the responsibility of the gendarmerie, which patrol the major highways and operate a majority of the checkpoints throughout the country. The Mauritanian Gendarmerie is part of the Ministry of Defense with three main missions: law enforcement, defense, and administration. Their goal is to cover all main roads and waterways where people move.

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

The Group General de la Securite des Routes was established in 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 through the country.

Medical Emergencies

Medical facilities are limited. Local pharmacies may have medication, but many medicines are difficult to obtain; travelers are advised to carry their own supplies. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “Traveling with Medications.”

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

All contacts operate within Nouakchott only and all numbers use the "222" country code

The military hospital can 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 hours a day including the weekends. The Clinique Chiva is located one street passed the restaurant "Le Petit Cafe" traveling in the direction of Manara Restaurant (northwest). Turn right (northeast) on the first street passed "Le Petit Café.” Clinique Chiva is the large building on your 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.

There is only one modern facility outside of Nouakchott in Chinguetti.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Mauritania.

OSAC Country Council Information

There is currently no active Country Council in Mauritania. Please contact OSAC’s Africa team if you are interested in private-sector engagement in Nouakchott or have questions about OSAC’s Country Council programs.

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 Business hours are 0800-1700 Mon-Thurs and 0800-1100 on Fri. The Embassy is closed Saturdays and Sundays.

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 (messages during emergency situations): 4525-3707

RSO: 4525-2660 x4738 (office)

Website: https://mr.usembassy.gov/

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling in Mauritania are encouraged to register in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP is a free service that helps the U.S. Embassy disseminate information about safety conditions and contact travelers in an emergency.

Additional Resources

Mauritania Information Sheet