The Bulgarian government has worked to enhance its terrorism prevention and enforcement tools by adopting new and comprehensive counterterrorism legislation, and releasing a counter-radicalization strategy and national plan, the US State Department noted in an annual report on countries’ efforts against terrorism.
The government of Bulgaria continued to extradite suspected foreign terrorist fighters from Bulgaria and launched a trial of three alleged Syrian foreign terrorist fighters as well as two suspected accomplices in the 2012 Bourgas bus bombing, the report, released on July 20, said.
The US and Bulgaria continued to strengthen counterterrorism co-operation through the Bilateral Counterterrorism Working Group established in 2015, the report said.
The group, comprising representatives of multiple US and Bulgarian agencies, facilitated the signing of a memorandum for continuous training of Bulgarian counterterrorism special forces.
In September, Bulgaria presented the US with a comprehensive list of priorities and projects to enhance bilateral co-operation in the fight against violent extremism and foreign terrorist fighters, and in November both countries signed an Implementing Agreement to the Bulgaria-US Preventing and Combating Serious Crime Agreement, which would make use of the US’s department of homeland security’s Secured Real-Time Platform.
As part of its bilateral counterterrorism co-operation proposal to the United States, Bulgaria proposed to create a regional research and analysis network on foreign terrorist fighters and radicalization to violence.
Bulgaria envisions a network of NGOs, academics, and security services from throughout the Balkans taking part in this effort.
Bulgaria is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and has repeatedly responded to requests for assistance, including providing weapons and munitions to the Iraqi Kurdistan Region’s Peshmerga, the US State Department report said.
Bulgaria prosecutes terrorism under several general provisions of the Penal Code, which has been amended multiple times since it was first enacted in 1968, the report said.
In 2015, the National Assembly adopted amendments to the Penal code that provide for the prosecution of individuals, including foreign terrorist fighters, who support, plan, and facilitate the commission of terrorist acts in Bulgaria and abroad.
In 2016, the Bulgarian National Assembly approved new counterterrorism legislation which provides a legal mechanism for a whole-of-government response to terrorist threats.
The bill defines three levels of terrorist threat and four levels of response readiness. The Cabinet provides overall guidance on counterterrorism activities and adopted a counterterrorism strategy and a national plan.
The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), which is part of the State Agency for National Security (SANS), will serve as a data hub and will supply all competent agencies with information necessary to prevent and intercept terrorist threats on a 24-hour-a-day basis, the report said.
The bill also regulates the role of the military forces in counterterrorism activities, and delineates the cooperation between the central and local governments.
Amendments to the legislation were adopted providing the military with powers to search individuals, their vehicles, and possessions; to check IDs; to enter homes in the owners’ absence; and to arrest or use physical force and arms if needed, to prevent or deal with the consequences of a terrorist act.
The Ministry of the Interior has operational units responsible for deterring, detecting, and responding to terrorist incidents, including the Specialized Unit for Combating Terrorism, Security Police, and Special Police Forces, which receive support from a US Special Operations Forces Liaison Element.
SANS has intelligence-gathering units responsible for counterterrorism. SANS also houses the NCTC, which is designed and capable of being an interagency body during crisis incidents.
“Specialized law enforcement units are generally well equipped and supported with relevant training, but their focus has been primarily on Sofia, while other regional centres lack resources,” the report said.
In 2015, the specialized court for organized crime and its prosecutors’ office received jurisdiction to prosecute and try all terrorist cases in the country. “The court is working to develop expertise in handling these types of cases,” the report said.
After the terrorist attacks in Paris (2015) and Brussels (2016), Bulgaria tightened its border control rules and screened all travellers at the border crossings, the US State Department report noted.
Within the European Union, Bulgaria shares Advanced Passenger Information appearing on the biographical data page of passports.
Based on bilateral police co-operation agreements, Bulgaria also shares this type of information with non-EU countries for law enforcement purposes on an as-needed basis.
In February, Parliament passed legislation that provided the legal basis for the establishment of a Passenger Information Unit (PIU).
The PIU will collect and share the data an airline receives from a traveler to book and manage travel. The same legislation also obliges air carriers to provide data to the PIU.
The government approved funding for the necessary equipment, and the PIU was in the process of staffing it with analysts from DANS and the Interior Ministry. Bulgaria also received 160 million euro (US $166 million) from the EU for border security enhancement.
US government agencies continued to work closely with Bulgarian counterparts through a variety of counterterrorism programs aimed at enhancing Bulgaria’s capacity and capabilities, the report said.
The Department of State partnered with Bulgaria to implement key programmes in the areas of border security, aviation security, and interagency co-operation.
In March, the US provided planning assistance and participated in a city-wide crisis exercise that simulated attacks on public venues and transportation and the specific targeting of US citizens, including US embassy personnel, the report said.
In May, the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance programme offered training on interviewing terrorist suspects and, in October, provided guidance to the NCTC on fulfilling its goal of becoming a true interagency counterterrorism fusion centre.
In May, the FBI provided terrorist screening training to Bulgarian NCTC personnel.
“Bulgaria has benefited from several Institute for Law Enforcement Administration training programs focused on airport interdiction, law enforcement leadership and development, and personnel and facility security. The United States also conducted a Passport and Visa Fraud training course.”
As part of its bilateral co-operation agreements with the US, Bulgaria sought to acquire facial recognition software, handheld explosives-detection devices, and other resources to expand its capacity to secure its border and detect transiting foreign terrorist fighters.
Bulgaria is a member of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism (MONEYVAL), a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body.
Bulgaria’s financial intelligence unit, the Financial Intelligence Directorate (FID) of SANS, is a member of the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units and has primary responsibility for the supervision of reporting financial institutions and other entities.
Bulgarian National Bank also has a Special Supervision Directorate to investigate banks for compliance with money laundering and terrorist financing requirements.
Bulgaria criminalizes terrorist financing largely in accordance with international standards, although current legislation does not cover the full list of offenses, the US State Department report said.
“Although adequate legislation is in place, the procedures to implement UN Security Council resolutions 1267 and 1373 remain cumbersome, and border control and customs are not clearly authorized to retain assets upon suspicion of terrorist financing.”
Since there is no publicly available information on terrorism related assets frozen or seized, it is hard to assess the effectiveness of Bulgaria’s process, the report said.
In April, Bulgaria’s Parliament approved amendments to the Measures against the Financing of Terrorism Act, introducing a direct application of United Nations (UN) sanctions made under UN Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaeda sanctions regime.
Since April, Bulgaria has added five new persons (foreign nationals) to its national list of persons subject to counterterrorist financing measures.
Thirty-one reporting entities, including banks, real estate brokers, and financial and exchange houses, are required to file regularly with FID currency transaction reports for all transactions valued at more than US $17 000.
In 2016, FID/SANS received 22 suspicious activity reports related to terrorist financing from domestic reporting entities and 23 reports from foreign entities.
The information remained under review at the end of the year. There are penalties (administrative sanctions) for non-compliance and enforcement is generally good, the report said.
Bulgaria requires the collection of Know Your Customer data for wire transfers. All non-governmental organizations are obliged to report suspicious transactions.
At the end of 2015, a new government strategy and action plan on countering radicalization to violence and violent extremism was approved by the Bulgarian Cabinet.
The strategy aims to strengthen existing government counterterrorism efforts by involving all possible agencies and by optimizing interagency co-ordination.
The strategy spells out mechanisms for improved co-operation with civil society, business organisations, local communities, and religious leaders.
According to Bulgaria’s draft action plan, the government will have a national program by 2020 for members of violent extremist groups to disengage, de radicalize, and be rehabilitated.
Further, the National Assembly approved amendments criminalizing “radical Islam” at the bill’s first reading. The second reading had not taken place before the end of 2016.
“The Grand Mufti of Bulgaria has been a voice of tolerance and moderation, and has stressed that government efforts must complement community CVE efforts.”
Bulgaria is a member of and active contributor to counterterrorism initiatives at the UN, EU, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and Organization for Black Sea Economic Cooperation, the report said.