Country Reports on Terrorism 2015 – Serbia

Overview: The Government of Serbia continued its efforts to counter international terrorism in 2015. The Government of Serbia hosted a regional counterterrorism conference focused on foreign terrorist fighters and sent representatives to countering violent extremism (CVE) conferences hosted in Albania, Italy, and Slovenia. Serbia’s law enforcement and security agencies, the Ministry of Interior (MUP)’s Directorate of Police, and the Security Information Agency (BIA), continued bilateral counterterrorism cooperation with the United States. During the year, the migrant crisis overwhelmed Government of Serbia resources, with many of the more than 500,000 migrants and refugees who passed through Serbia having done so with minimal vetting and processing. As a result of the significant uptick in refugee/migrant arrivals during the latter half of the year, the Government of Serbia sought assistance from the United States and other strategic partners for more advanced screening methods. Despite Serbian political leaders’ public support for counterterrorism measures and some initial steps during the year to better coordinate the government’s counterterrorism activities, the Government of Serbia lacked a national Counterterrorism Strategy at year’s end and had no infrastructure or strategy for state-sponsored CVE programs.

The Government of Serbia continued its public condemnation of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) activities and voiced support for ongoing efforts to disrupt and counter the group. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Interior, among others, publicly stressed the importance of cooperation in the global effort to counter ISIL. Already a member of the Counter ISIL Coalition, the Government of Serbia joined the Coalition’s Foreign Terrorist Fighter Working Group. A lack of resources and limited capacity prevented the Government of Serbia from pursuing membership in other Coalition working groups. The difficult economic situation in Serbia continued to limit the likelihood of substantial financial or material contributions to the Coalition.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The Government of Serbia made some strides on the counterterrorism front in 2015 following the development of counterterrorism programs and passage of foreign fighter legislation in 2014.

The Government of Serbia lacked a strategic, interagency approach to handling terrorism-related matters. Efforts to create a national Counterterrorism Strategy began in July, but there is no timeline for completing it. A lack of clarity regarding primacy between law enforcement and prosecutorial authorities, as well as jockeying between agencies competing for primacy in the field of counterterrorism, has hampered interagency cooperation. The Serbian security sector, including MUP’s Special Anti-Terrorism Unit and the Counter-Terrorist Unit, participated in training courses offered by DOJ’s Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance, and Training Program; and the International Criminal Investigative Training Program.

Transnational terrorism concerns within Serbia were similar to those facing other Western Balkan states which are located on a historical transit route between the Middle East and Western Europe. Serbian authorities were alert to efforts by international terrorists to establish a presence in, or transit, the country. The Government of Serbia continued to cooperate with neighboring countries to improve border security and information sharing. The migrant crisis exposed numerous vulnerabilities in Serbia’s border security, which was matched by vulnerabilities in aspects of the border security of neighboring countries. In response to the migrant crisis, the Government of Serbia contacted multiple international partners to seek advice and assistance related to the implementation of screening tools to better identify and prevent potential terrorist travel to Western Europe via Serbia. Embassy Belgrade’s Export Control and Related Border Security (EXBS) program continued to conduct training courses for and donate equipment to Serbian Customs and Border Police to help address border security matters. For example, EXBS donated a Secure Video Link network to the Customs and Border Police of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia to provide immediate and secure video communications among the countries’ operations centers in the event of a terrorist incident. However, long sections of Serbia’s borders remained porous, particularly those borders shared with Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance program supported Serbian participation in a series of border security-related courses aimed at addressing the travel of foreign terrorist fighters.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Serbia 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, and has observer status in the Eurasian Group on Combating Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing (EAG), both Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional bodies. Serbia’s financial intelligence unit, the Administration for the Prevention of Money Laundering, has been a member of the Egmont Group since 2003.

On December 31, 2014, the Serbian government adopted the National Strategy for the Fight against Money Laundering and Terrorism Funding, which covers strategic planning, coordination, and cooperation of all concerned government agencies and departments. The National Strategy covers the period until 2018 and envisages the constitution of expert teams to coordinate government actions involved with anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism.

As the end of 2015, the adoption of amendments to Serbia’s 2014 Law on Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing was on hold pending the EU’s adoption of new money laundering directives. The planned amendments would harmonize the Serbian law with expected EU rules and with the set of 40 recommendations adopted in 2012 by the FATF on Money Laundering.

In March 2015, the Serbian Parliament passed the Law on Freezing of Assets with the Aim of Preventing Terrorism. In March, the Anti-Money Laundering Directorate (AMLD) published an amended list of indicators for recognizing suspicious transactions related to terrorism financing. As a result, relevant state institutions are required to include them in the list of indicators they develop pursuant to the Law on the Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing. In September, the AMLD issued a new set of indicators for recognizing money laundering and terrorism financing for banks, brokers, insurance companies, and real estate agents. These indicators entered into force on October 1.

Consistent with the new Law on Freezing Assets with the Aim of Preventing Terrorism, in July, the Government of Serbia issued a list of designated persons and entities. Serbian authorities have an ability to seize and confiscate terrorist assets pursuant to asset forfeiture mechanisms. The asset freezing mechanism was created with the adoption of the Law on Freezing Assets in March.

Serbian authorities routinely distribute the UN sanctions lists to financial institution through the AMLD. As of July, Serbia has a list of designated terrorists or terrorist entities, which includes persons designated by the UN.

For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.

Countering Violent Extremism: The Government of Serbia neither has a comprehensive national strategy nor programs in place for countering violent extremism (CVE). In 2015, the Government of Serbia appointed State Secretary (Deputy Foreign Minister-equivalent) Roksanda Nincic as the point of contact for CVE-related matters. Additionally, the Government of Serbia sent representatives to regional CVE conferences in Albania, Italy, and Slovenia.

International and Regional Cooperation: Serbian cooperation with the United States on counterterrorism issues is generally strong. U.S. law enforcement and justice sector authorities have provided assistance to Serbian counterparts in Serbian terrorism cases.

The Government of Serbia is engaged in limited regional and international cooperation on counterterrorism issues. In January, the Government of Serbia offered counterterrorism assistance to Nigeria following attacks there by Boko Haram. Elements of the Government of Serbia, including MUP and BIA, cooperated with INTERPOL and Europol on counterterrorism activities, including watchlists. Regarding regional border security, Serbia’s level of cooperation is strongest with Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania. Cooperation with Croatia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina is less developed. Because of the sensitive issue of Kosovo, whose independence Serbia does not recognize, cooperation on border security is least developed between Serbia and Kosovo. However, advances were made on this front in 2015, including such steps as the inclusion of Kosovo’s Minister of Interior in a regional counterterrorism/CVE conference co-hosted by the Serbian and U.S. government in Belgrade in April. Serbia held the chairmanship of the OSCE in 2015 and supported the organization’s engagement in CVE and counterterrorism issues.