8 February 2014

Somalia: U.S. State Department Issues Somalia Travel Warning

The U.S. Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to Somalia. This replaces the Travel Warning dated June 21, 2013, to update information on security concerns.

There is at this time no U.S. Embassy or other formal U.S. diplomatic presence in Somalia. Consequently, the U.S. government is not in a position to assist or effectively provide services to U.S. citizens in Somalia. In light of this and continuous security threats, the U.S. government recommends that U.S. citizens avoid all travel to Somalia.

The security situation inside Somalia remains unstable and dangerous. Terrorist operatives and armed groups in Somalia have demonstrated their intent to attack Somali authorities, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and other non-military targets. Kidnapping, bombings, murder, illegal roadblocks, banditry, and other violent incidents and threats to U.S. citizens and other foreign nationals can occur in any region of Somalia. In addition, there is a particular threat to foreigners in places where large crowds gather and westerners frequent, including airports, government buildings, and shopping areas. Inter-clan and inter-factional fighting can flare up with little or no warning. This type of violence has resulted in the deaths of Somali nationals and the displacement of more than one million people.

While some parts of south/central Somalia are now under Somali government control with the military support of African Union forces, al-Shabaab has demonstrated the capability to carry out attacks in government-controlled territory with particular emphasis on targeting government facilities, foreign delegations' facilities and movements, and commercial establishments frequented by government officials, foreign nationals, and the Somali diaspora. In February 2012, al-Shabaab announced that it had merged with Al-Qaida. Al-Shabaab-planned assassinations, suicide bombings, and indiscriminate armed attacks in civilian populated areas are frequent in Somalia. On January 1, 2014, al-Shabaab carried out a bombing against a popular hotel in Mogadishu. On September 7 and November 8, 2013, al-Shabaab executed attacks on a popular restaurant and hotel in Mogadishu, killing nearly 30 people and injuring many more, including several government officials and foreign nationals. On July 27, al-Shabaab executed a deadly attack against the Turkish housing compound in Mogadishu. On June 19, Islamist militants carried out a deadly assault on the main UN compound in Mogadishu killing at least 17 people. African Union (AU) soldiers restored order after a 90 minute gun battle. On May 5, an attack on a government convoy carrying foreign diplomats killed eight bystanders. On April 14, a combined suicide bombing/armed assault by al-Shabaab gunmen killed 29 and wounded 58. In addition to larger attacks, assassinations, grenade throwing, and kidnappings remain a daily threat in Mogadishu and elsewhere. In addition to the high profile attacks above, al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for other terrorist attacks in the region.

Pirates and other criminals have specifically targeted and kidnapped foreigners working in Somalia. In January 2012, a U.S. citizen was kidnapped while on work related travel in Somalia, and in October 2011, a U.S. citizen aid worker living in Somalia was also kidnapped. In both cases, as well as in recent kidnappings of other westerners, the victims took precautionary measures by hiring local security personnel, but those hired to protect them may have played a role in the abductions. A strong familiarity with Somalia and/or extensive prior travel to the region does not reduce travel risk. U.S. citizens contemplating travel to Somalia, including Somaliland and Puntland, are advised to obtain kidnap and recovery insurance, as well as medical evacuation insurance, prior to travel.

Additionally, U.S. citizens are urged to avoid sailing close to the coast of Somalia as attacks have occurred as far as 1,000 nautical miles off the coast in international waters. Merchant vessels, fishing boats, and recreational craft all risk seizure by pirates and having their crews held for ransom in the waters off the Horn of Africa, especially in the international waters near Somalia. Somali pirates captured and killed four U.S. citizens aboard their boat on February 22, 2011. If transit around the Horn of Africa is necessary, it is strongly recommended that vessels travel in convoys, maintain good communications contact at all times, and follow the guidance provided by the Maritime Security Center - Horn of Africa (MSC-HOA). You should consult the Maritime Administration's Horn of Africa Piracy page for information on maritime advisories, self-protection measures, and naval forces in the region.

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