US State Department: BiH remained a cooperative Counterterrorism Partner

Europe faced a number of ongoing terrorist threats and concerns in 2017, including from foreign terrorist organizations operating out of Iraq and Syria, foreign terrorist fighters returning to Europe to conduct attacks, and homegrown terrorists who were inspired or remotely directed by ISIS. Despite increased military pressure in 2017, ISIS inspired and took credit for terrorist attacks against European symbolic targets and public spaces. Within Europe, ISIS inspired self-directed terrorists primarily in France, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, at times adopting the tactic of ramming large motor vehicles into crowds of civilians.

Many European countries remain concerned about returning foreign terrorist fighters. Concurrently, terrorist groups espousing left wing and nationalist ideologies, such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the Turkey-based Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front, respectively, continued strikes against police and military targets in Turkey and fundraising activity throughout the rest of Europe.

European countries contributed immensely to worldwide counterterrorism efforts in 2017. Thirty-nine European countries, the European Union, and INTERPOL collaborated within the force-multiplying framework of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. As a result, the Coalition, which had already liberated Fallujah, Ramadi, and Tikrit, successfully completed military campaigns to liberate Mosul, Iraq and Raqqa, Syria. European officials and civil society members participated in counterterrorism and countering violent extremism policies and programs within multilateral and regional fora, such as the United Nations, the Global Counterterrorism Forum, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and the Council of Europe. North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies agreed to a Counterterrorism Action Plan in May, enhancing the Alliance’s counterterrorism role by: joining the Defeat-ISIS Coalition, increasing information sharing, forming a new terrorism intelligence cell at NATO Headquarters, and appointing a coordinator to oversee NATO’s counterterrorism efforts.

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) remained a cooperative counterterrorism partner and continued to increase its counterterrorism capacity in 2017. Legislative loopholes and lenient sentencing, however, remained major challenges. Some operational domestic coordination exists, but interpersonal and interagency infighting and stovepiping undermined effective cooperation. Extremist ideology and regional nationalist extremist groups remained potential sources of terrorism in BiH, and little progress was made on rehabilitation and de-radicalization. BiH is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: BiH did not pass any major counterterrorism legislation at the national level in 2017. The sub-state entity Republika Srpska adopted a new criminal code that aligns terrorism offenses with international standards and criminalizes membership in foreign paramilitary and para-police forces. At the state level, BiH also has laws prohibiting membership in para-military and para-police organizations, but sentencing remained a major challenge. Foreign terrorist fighters frequently received sentences below the minimum prescribed by the BiH criminal code, a result of judges taking mitigating circumstances into account. If sentenced to one year or less of incarceration, a convicted terrorist may opt to pay a fine rather than serve time in custody.

Although the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) proposed a draft list of amendments to strengthen foreign terrorist fighter/counterterrorism legislation in 2017, there was little political will, including in the MoJ, to secure buy-in. The amendments have been stalled since June. A proposal to remove the option for convicted foreign terrorist fighters and terrorists to pay a fine in lieu of jail time, or to secure early release (both of these amendments were included in the MoJ draft), was under consideration in parliament at the end of 2017.

A member of parliament proposed increasing foreign terrorist fighter minimum sentencing from five to eight years, although this would not address the mitigating circumstances issue. A Ministry of Security working group was in the preliminary stage of developing comprehensive amendments to the criminal code on these issues, but there was little political will to proceed given an upcoming election in October 2018.

The State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) is the lead law enforcement unit performing counterterrorism functions. With approximately 25 officers working on counterterrorism cases, its effectiveness is limited. In 2017, the BiH Ministry of Security proposed legislation to increase the number of counterterrorism-focused SIPA officers to approximately 50 by upgrading the relevant unit to a department.

Law enforcement cooperation continued to suffer from interpersonal and institutional infighting. A BiH Prosecutor’s Office-led task force met only two times in 2017, and public disagreements between the Acting Chief Prosecutor, Minister of Security, and SIPA leadership undermined strategic progress on counterterrorism initiatives. At the operational level, law enforcement and prosecutors meet and work jointly on certain cases. However, shortages of counterterrorism investigators and interagency cooperation often led to investigative disruptions and the release of suspects after a brief detention.

There were no significant changes since 2016 on border security.

BiH continued its efforts to disrupt terrorist activity in 2017 through arrests:

  • On November 29, police arrested Emir Hodzic – who previously served a one-year sentence for a foreign terrorist fighter conviction – for possession of illegal weapons, including a rocket launcher.
  • In June, police arrested Enes Mesic when he attempted to illegally cross the border to Serbia, where police suspected he planned to conduct a terrorist attack. Mesic had been sentenced to three years in prison two months earlier in April for terrorist activities, but was not immediately incarcerated, highlighting another problem with the BiH justice system. In addition to Mesic, six other convicted terrorists were rearrested or returned into custody after the State Court did not imprison them immediately after sentencing.

BiH continued to cooperate with the United States on counterterrorism. For example, the BiH government worked with the United States on the extradition of Mirsad Kandic, an ISIS facilitator living in Sarajevo.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: BiH is a member of the Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism, a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body. BiH’s financial intelligence unit, the Financial Intelligence Department, is a member of the Egmont Group. BiH completed its FATF Action Plan in September, which included making progress on customer due diligence and suspicious transaction reporting, as well as increasing regulation on financial and non-financial institutions. During the FATF plenary in October, FATF was granted an on-site visit to ensure implementation of these reforms. This is the next step in removing BiH from the FATF “grey list.” For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2018 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.

Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): In 2017, the main religious communities in BiH (Catholic, Islamic, Jewish, and Orthodox) worked together through the Interreligious Council to promote tolerance and confront acts of bigotry or violence directed at any of these communities. The BiH Ministry of Security named its first state-level coordinator for international and domestic efforts to prevent violent extremism, largely in response to an increasing number of international programs and resources targeting violent extremism in BiH. Working in close partnership with the International Organization for Migration and other well-known international organizations, BiH supported efforts to strengthen resiliencies within identified at-risk communities, developed the capacity of religious leaders and civil society actors to counter expressions of intolerance, and piloted comprehensive community-led intervention procedures at the local and municipal level. The BiH cities of Bihac, Bijeljina, Doboj, Jablanica, Prijedor, Srebrenik, and Tuzla – and the municipality of Centar (Sarajevo) – are members of the Strong Cities Network.

International and Regional Cooperation: BiH’s criminal code and related legal framework are generally consistent with United Nations (UN) and European Union counterterrorism standards. The State Prosecutor’s Office also works frequently with counterparts in Serbia and Montenegro. BiH is a member of the UN, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Regional Cooperation Council for Southeast Europe, and the Council of Europe.

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