Overview: The Government of Serbia continued its efforts to counter international terrorism in 2016, and political leaders engaged with the U.S. and international community to develop stronger counterterrorism measures and strategies. Serbia regularly participated in regional counterterrorism and countering violent extremism (CVE) conferences and in training exercises throughout Europe. Serbia’s law enforcement and security agencies, in particular the Ministry of Interior’s (MOI) Directorate of Police, and the Security Information Agency (BIA), continued bilateral counterterrorism cooperation with the United States, with a focus on tracking and vetting the ongoing refugee and migrant flows. Improvements were made in 2016, as some 110,000 of the approximate 135,000 migrants who moved through the country were registered. There were still significant gaps in vetting and processing, however, which was highlighted by media reports that at least one perpetrator of the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris flowed through Serbia under the guise of being a Syrian refugee. The U.S. government is working in partnership with the Serbian government and its law enforcement and security agencies to remedy these gaps.
In 2016, Serbia made significant progress in adopting the “National Strategy for the Prevention and Countering of Terrorism for the Period 2016-2021.” The document also incorporates a small CVE platform, marking the first time that Serbia will have a unified counterterrorism and CVE plan in place. The strategy is expected to be adopted formally by the government in early 2017.
In 2016, Serbian officials continued public condemnation of ISIS activities, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Interior, among others, have publicly stressed the importance of the country’s participation in the global effort to defeat ISIS. Serbia is a partner in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and the Coalition’s Foreign Terrorist Fighter Working Group and donated approximately 10 tons of ammunition to the fight against ISIS in 2016. The difficult economic situation in Serbia continued to limit the likelihood of substantial additional financial or material contributions to the Coalition.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Serbia made some strides on the counterterrorism front in 2016, following the development of counterterrorism programs and passage of foreign terrorist fighter legislation in late 2014. Article 386a of Serbia’s criminal code outlaws unauthorized participation in a war or armed conflict in a foreign country, and designates punishments from six months to five years for those participating as individuals; from one to eight years for those participating as a group; and, from two to 10 years for organizers. In July 2016, criminal proceedings began against seven individuals accused of financing, organizing, and recruiting Serbian citizens to fight in Syria for ISIS. As of December 2016, the case remained ongoing.
Serbia’s strategic, interagency approach to handling terrorism-related matters continued to make progress in 2016. Efforts to create a national counterterrorism strategy began in July 2015 and are expected to conclude in 2017. The working group in charge of developing the strategy has finalized the language and currently awaits the appointment of a new chair before sending the document for adoption by the government. This national strategy also includes, for the first time, language addressing violent extremism and strategic goals for countering radicalization to violence. The MOI continued to improve its three-year-old Service for Combating Terrorism and Extremism, which serves as a central agency for handling both counterterrorism and CVE concerns. Representatives of the Department of Justice’s Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance, and Training and International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP) frequently interacted with Serbia’s security sector, including MOI’s Special Anti-Terrorist Unit and the Counter-Terrorist Unit, to provide best practices and training courses. In 2016, a joint project by ICITAP and the U.S. Office of Defense Cooperation (ODC) partnered with Serbia’s Ministry of Interior to set up an Operational Analysis Service. ODC also implemented a program to deliver information technology equipment worth approximately US $400,000 to the MOI’s Terrorism and Extremism Service to help develop further Serbia’s counterterrorism capacities.
Transnational terrorism concerns within Serbia were similar to those facing other Western Balkan states located along the historical transit route between the Middle East and Western Europe – the so-called “Balkans Route” that moves weapons, narcotics, and people. Serbian authorities are alert to efforts by international terrorists to establish a presence in, or transit, Serbian territory. The government continued to cooperate with neighboring countries to improve border security and information sharing, and in 2016, established a Migrant Smuggling Task Force, a prosecution-led multi-agency team within the MOI that joins 20 representatives from various departments. The migrant crisis exposed numerous vulnerabilities in Serbia’s border security, which largely matched vulnerabilities facing neighboring countries. In response to the migrant crisis, Serbia has been updating its screening tools and border security with help from international partners. The Department of State’s Export Control and Related Border Security (EXBS) program continued to conduct training courses for and to donate equipment to Serbian Customs and Border Police. In 2016, 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. Long sections of Serbia’s borders, however, remained porous, particularly those borders shared with Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
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 Terrorist Financing. The Serbian Anti-Money Laundering Directorate (AMLD) is a member of the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units.
In 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, and covers the period until 2018. The National Strategy envisages the formation of expert teams to coordinate government actions to counter money laundering and the financing of terrorism.
The AMLD published an amended list of indicators for recognizing suspicious transactions and a set of indicators for recognizing money laundering and terrorist financing for banks, brokers, insurance companies, and real estate agents.
Several significant deficiencies remain in Serbia’s anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) legal framework, including gaps in the terrorist financing offense and targeted financial sanctions, such as obligations under the UN Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions regime. There are also shortcomings in Serbia’s financial supervisory and border control regimes.
Consistent with the new law on foreign terrorist fighters, the government issued a list of designated persons and entities in 2015, with updates in February and May 2016.
For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2017 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: As part of the National Strategy for the Prevention and Countering of Terrorism for 2016-2021, Serbia for the first time incorporated a CVE aspect into the strategy. There were no concrete national programs in place to counter radicalization to violence or violent extremism in 2016.
Regional and International Cooperation: Serbia was engaged in limited regional and international cooperation on counterterrorism issues. Elements of the government, including the MOI and BIA, cooperate with INTERPOL and Europol on counterterrorism activities, including watchlists.
On issues of border security, Serbia has well-developed cooperation programs with Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania. In addition, EXBS works extensively with a Tri-Border Initiative that brings Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian agencies together for regular training and quarterly meetings. In 2016, regular training activities between the Border Police and Customs Agencies of Serbia and Kosovo, which began in 2014, continued, marking an improvement in cooperation between Serbia and Kosovo in this area in recent years