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Thursday, March 3, 2011

MACTV News: Don’t Travel to Mali” U.S Tells Citizens

March 02, 2011
By Williams Ekanem The U.S. Department of State has issued a warning to U.S. citizens of the risk of travel to Mali, and continues to recommend against all travel to the north of the country due to the kidnapping threats against Westerners. This is consequent upon reports violent acts carried out by the Islamic terrorist group Al-Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the region. The Department of States noted that AQIM has declared its intention to attack Western targets, stating that the Department is aware of several separate sources of information indicating AQIM’s ongoing interest in kidnapping Westerners throughout the Sahel Region. The U.S. Embassy in Bamako has issued several warden messages regarding these threats, as have the U.S. Embassies in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, and in Niamey, Niger. Instances of the attack abound, for example on January 5, 2011, an individual claiming connections to AQIM attacked the French Embassy in Bamako with a handgun and an improvised-explosive device. Two injuries were reported. On January 7, 2011, two French nationals were kidnapped in Niamey, Niger. They were found dead less than 24 hours later following a rescue attempt by French and Nigerien military forces. On February 2, 2011, a vehicle containing explosive materials failed to stop at a security check point outside of Nouakchott, Mauritania. Mauritanian security forces opened fire and the vehicle exploded, killing the vehicle’s passengers. Mauritanian security forces were on alert for vehicles suspected of belonging to AQIM that may have recently entered Mauritania to conduct terrorist attacks. In early February 2011, an Italian woman was kidnapped in southern Algeria, and it is possible she is being held in northern Niger or northern Mali. In September 2010, seven people, including five French citizens, a Togolese national, and a Malagasy citizen, were kidnapped from the mining town of Arlit, Niger. All are still being held hostage by AQIM. On July 24, 2010, AQIM executed a French hostage in retaliation for the killing of six AQIM members during a Mauritanian-launched hostage rescue operation with French assistance in northern Mali. As a result of Western involvement in these operations, it is possible that AQIM will attempt retaliatory attacks against Western targets of opportunity. AQIM has also claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of two Canadian citizen UN officials in Niger in December 2008, the kidnapping of four European tourists in January 2009 on the Mali-Niger border, the murder of a British hostage from the above group in Mali in June 2009, the murder of a U.S. citizen in Mauritania in June 2009, the suicide-bombing near the French Embassy in Mauritania on August 8, 2009, and the kidnappings of three Spanish and one French citizen in November 2009, two Italian citizens in December 2009, and another French national (who was taken hostage in Niger in April 2010, and then murdered on July 24, 2010,as noted above). In addition to threats posed by AQIM and potential hostage takers, violent confrontations between rival drug and arms traffickers have occurred in northern Mali over the past year. The threat posed by AQIM, sporadic banditry, and the porous nature of Mali’s northern borders with Algeria, Niger, and Mauritania all reinforce longstanding security concerns affecting travel to northern Mali. The Department of State notes that the U.S. Embassy in Bamako has designated northern regions of Mali as “restricted without prior authorization” for purposes of travel by U.S. government employees, contractors, grantees, and their dependents. Prior to traveling to these areas, U.S. government employees in Mali are required to have the written approval of the U.S. Ambassador to Mali. This designation is based on the presence of AQIM, as well as banditry activity. This restriction does not apply to travelers who are not associated with the U.S. government, but should be taken into account when planning travel. The restriction is in effect for the region of Kidal; the region of Gao including the road to Ansongo and the border with Niger; and the region of Timbuktu. U.S. citizens are specifically reminded that these areas include the Timbuktu site of the popular Festival au Desert music festival, as well as the sites in the regions of Kidal and Gao where many other musical and cultural festivals are traditionally held between December and February. It should be noted that - in addition to the potential terrorist and criminal threats - these festivals are located in particularly remote locations, and the Embassy would have extreme difficulty rendering assistance should an emergency occur at one of them.

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