An annual report by the US State Department has detailed the steps that Bulgaria is taking in the fight against terrorism.
The US and Bulgaria strengthened counterterrorism co-operation through the Bilateral Counterterrorism working group established in 2015, the report, released on September 19, said.
In addition, Bulgaria is in the process of completing an update to its 2015-2020 National Strategy for Countering Radicalization and Terrorism. Bulgaria is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and has repeatedly responded to requests for assistance, the report said.
Bulgaria worked with the US Department of Homeland Security to improve its biometric screening of individuals entering and transiting the country.
The report said that Bulgaria prosecutes terrorism under several general provisions of the penal code, which has been amended multiple times since it was first enacted in 1968.
In 2015, the National Assembly adopted amendments to the penal code that provide for the prosecution of individuals, including foreign terrorist fighters, who support and plan 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 threats and four levels of response readiness. The bill also regulates the role of the military in counterterrorism activities and delineates the co-operation between the central and local governments.
Amendments to the legislation provided the military with powers to search individuals, private property, check identification, enter homes in the owners’ absence, and arrest or use physical force and arms if needed to prevent or manage the consequences of a terrorist act.
In 2017, Bulgaria implemented new legislation directing that public buildings, including schools, transportation hubs, tourism sites and facilities, and houses of worship develop counterterrorism risk assessments and prevention and response measures in the event of a terrorist attack.
The Cabinet provides overall guidance on counterterrorism activities, and has adopted a counterterrorism strategy and a national plan.
The Ministry of the Interior (MOI) 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 successfully completed a multi-year training mission with a US special operations liaison element.
The State Agency for National Security (SANS) has intelligence-gathering units responsible for counterterrorism, the report said.
SANS also houses the National Counterterrorism Centre, which was designed as 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.”
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 such cases.
The court is hearing the case against two suspected accomplices in the 2012 Bourgas airport bombing, although procedural issues have caused multiple delays in the trial with the most recent delay occurring in November 2017, the report said.
After the migrant crisis in 2014-2015 and the spate of terrorist attacks in Europe in recent years, Bulgaria tightened its border control rules and began screening all travelers at its border crossings.
Within the European Union (EU), Bulgaria shares advanced passenger information appearing on the biographical data page of passports and has begun collecting and using Passenger Name Record data in air traveler screening. Based on bilateral police co-operation agreements, Bulgaria also shares this data with non-EU countries for law enforcement purposes on an as-needed basis.
In October 2017, the Government of Bulgaria apprehended a dual Bulgarian-Syrian national and three accomplices for suspected ties to ISIS and for taking part in terrorist and terrorism-related activities, the report said.
US government agencies continued to work closely with Bulgarian counterparts through a variety of counterterrorism programmes aimed at enhancing Bulgaria’s capacity and capabilities.
The Department of State partnered with Bulgaria to implement key programmes in the areas of border security, aviation security, and interagency co-operation.
Through participation in the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) programme, Bulgaria received training on interviewing terrorist suspects, critical incident management, and integrating counterterrorism strategies at the national level.
In 2017, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation provided a post-blast investigations course to Bulgaria’s Special Counterterrorism Force and a big data analytics course to SANS, the report said.
Bulgaria belongs to the Council of Europe’s 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. Bulgaria’s Financial Intelligence Directorate (FID) has primary responsibility for anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) measures for all reporting entities and is a member of the Egmont Group. The Bulgarian National Bank also has a special supervision directorate to investigate banks for compliance with AML/CFT requirements.
In 2016, Bulgaria’s Parliament approved amendments to the Measures against Financing of Terrorism Act, introducing direct application of United Nations (UN) lists, as well as mechanisms to increase the efficiency of Bulgaria’s national list of persons subject to the anti-terrorist financing measures. Bulgaria criminalizes terrorism financing in accordance with international standards.
“Since there is no publicly available information on terrorist-related assets frozen or seized, it is hard to assess the effectiveness of Bulgaria’s process,” the report said.
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 $17 000. “There are penalties for non-compliance (administrative sanctions), and enforcement is generally effective.”
Bulgaria requires the collection of know your customer data for wire transfers. All non-governmental organizations are obliged to report suspicious transactions.
The report noted that at the end of 2015, a new government strategy and action plan on countering radicalization to violence and terrorism was approved by the Bulgarian Cabinet.
At the end of 2017, the Bulgarian government was conducting an update of this strategy with a greater emphasis on providing prevention tools and resources to frontline practitioners such as teachers and police officers.
The strategy spells out mechanisms for improved co-operation with civil society, business organizations, local communities, and religious leaders. It also aims to strengthen existing government counterterrorism efforts by involving all possible agencies and by optimizing interagency coordination.
The Chief Mufti of Bulgaria has been a voice of tolerance and moderation and has emphasised that government efforts must complement CVE community efforts, the report said.
Bulgaria is a member of and active contributor to counterterrorism initiatives at the UN, the EU, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the Organization for Black Sea Economic co-operation. In December, Bulgaria co-sponsored UN Security Council resolution 2396 on returning and relocating foreign terrorist fighters, the report noted.