Balkan states cooperate well with international partners on counter-terrorism – but face a lack of resources and in problems of cooperation between institutions, the latest US State Department report says.
The US State Department’s 2017 terrorism country reports, released on Wednesday, show that many European countries remain concerned about returning foreign terrorist fighters, while the main issue in the Balkans appears to be a lack of resources.
The report says Albania was a strong supporter of counterterrorism efforts in 2017 and continued its participation in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, making significant donations of weapons and ammunition.
But it noted that corruption and barriers to information-sharing among government agencies, insufficient intra-agency coordination, and a poorly functioning judicial system continue to hinder Albania’s efforts.
Recent constitutional and legal reforms to the judiciary are underway, beginning with the vetting of Albania’s 800 judges and prosecutors for corruption, proficiency and ties to organised crime, it noted.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, legislative loopholes and lenient sentencing remained major challenges although the country remains a cooperative counter-terrorism partner and continued to increase its counter-terrorism capacity in 2017.
Extremist ideologies and regional nationalist groups remain potential sources of terrorism in Bosnia, with little progress made on rehabilitation and de-radicalisation, the report noted.
On Bulgaria, the report says the country is now completing its update to its 2015-2020 National Strategy for Countering Radicalization and Terrorism.
In 2017, the country adopted new legislation directing that public buildings, including schools, transportation hubs, tourism sites and facilities, and houses of worship, develop counter-terrorism risk assessments and prevention and response measures in the event of a terrorist attack.
Specialised law enforcement units are generally well equipped and supported with relevant training, but their focus has been on Sofia, while other regional centres lack resources, the report said.
In Kosovo, the report recalled that about 403 Kosovo citizens have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight for or join ISIS or al-Nusrah Front, about 74 of whom are now dead.
Some 133 have returned, however, while about 196 remain in the conflict zones, including about 40 children born to Kosovo citizens in the conflict zones.
In 2017, the Kosovo government drafted its third counter-terrorism strategy and action plan and continued to implement its comprehensive strategy and updated its action plan for countering violent extremism.
Kosovo’s legislative framework is sufficient to prosecute individuals suspected of committing or supporting terrorist activities, but prosecutors lack experience with such cases, the report said.
In Macedonia, it is assessed that ISIS members and sympathisers have maintained a presence in the country.
The Interior Ministry and intelligence agency have estimated that at least 150 Macedonia nationals travelled to join terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq, of whom 30 were killed, 40 remain there, and 80 have returned to Macedonia.
Macedonia has cooperated with US counter-terrorism efforts as a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and is a willing regional and international counter-terrorism partner.
In Serbia, the US report noted that no terrorist attacks occurred in 2017 and said levels of ISIS recruitment activities are low.
The main terrorism threats in Serbia remain the potential movement of money and weapons through its territory, returning foreign terrorist fighters, and radicalisation.
The government has taken steps to improve its ability to fight terrorism with the adoption of the National Strategy for the Prevention and Countering of Terrorism for 2017 to 2021, and has continued cooperation with international partners, focused on law enforcement and cyber-security efforts.