WASHINGTON – The Western Balkan countries are cooperating with the US on many levels in fight against terrorism, and countries have adopted specific counterterrorism strategies and laws, but the fundamental issues each country is facing are corruption and lack of coordination among neighbouring countries, it is stated in the US Department of State’s Report on Terrorism for 2016.
Many EU member states reported an increase in the rate of returning foreign terrorist fighters from Syria and Iraq, adding that the overall number of departed foreign fighters originating from Western European and Balkan countries declined significantly in 2016.
Albania, as one of the countries which are participating in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, is said to be a dedicated supporter of counterterrorism. It has recently expanded State Police Anti-Terrorism Unit and has worked closely with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
Aside from that, the US are providing Albania with mentorship, assistance, and training to prosecutors, law enforcement officials, financial investigators, intelligence analysts, and judges from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Serbia, who work on foreign terrorist fighter and terrorism-related cases through its Balkan Regional Counterterrorism program located in Tirana.
What seems to be the biggest challenge for Albania is corruption, which is said to hinders Albania’s law enforcement efforts at all levels.
When it comes to the legislation and law enforcement, in 2015, the Government of Albania drafted and adopted a national strategy to counter violent extremism, and in 2016, the Government of Albania appointed a National Coordinator for Countering Violent Extremism, who is charged with overseeing the implementation of the national strategy.
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
Bosnia and Hercegovina, as well as Albania, is a member of the Global Coalition to defeat ISIS. It is considered as a cooperative counterterrorism partner and it has continued to make progress in increasing its counterterrorism capacities, as stated.
What is worrying is that the violent Islamist extremist ideology and regional nationalist extremist groups have remained potential sources of violent extremism in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
One of the major challenges is the lack of coordination among institutions. It is stated that the majority of BiH’s coordination and cooperation problems are the results of personal, political, and institutional rivalries that exist among law enforcement agencies and the State Prosecutor’s Office.
In addition, BiH still lacks the capacity to thoroughly investigate and prosecute cases of terrorism and foreign terrorist fighters, especially when investigations involve complex financial dealings, cyber recruitment, and coordination.
Kosovo as a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS has taken various steps to support fight against terrorism. It has primarily focused on stopping the flow of foreign terrorist fighters and tracking and restricting financing for terrorist groups.
It is stated that the threat of violent Islamist extremism has been growing in Kosovo, due to the funding from foreign organisations that preach extremist ideologies, and violent extremist groups which are actively using social media to spread propaganda and recruit followers.
It is also noted that due to these rising challenges, Kosovo Police Counterterrorism Directorate is enhancing its investigative capacities by increasing personnel and developing a cyber-counterterrorism unit.
The Kosovo government is cooperating with the US on counterterrorism, and the US also provided help in assisting law enforcement and judicial institutions on active counterterrorism cases.
Due to the government’s limited ability to exercise full authority in northern Kosovo, it is noted that the NATO Kosovo Force (KFOR) and European Union (EU) Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) are working together with Kosovo Police to keep the area safe and secure.
Macedonia cooperated with the US on counterterrorism, and it is demonstrating its strong commitment to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, it is stated.
What is highly important is that Macedonia conducted three significant counterterrorism operations in 2016, one of which was in coordination with authorities in Albania and Kosovo, leading to the arrest of 23 people in Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia.
However, Macedonian authorities assess that ISIS members and sympathisers maintained a presence in Macedonia.
Regarding the legislation in this area, the government approved a National Counterterrorism Strategy in March.
However, it is noted that there is no separate National Strategy to counter or prevent violent extremism.
Macedonia has a good cooperation with its neighbours on counter terrorism, especially Albania and Kosovo. Altogether, they have established a framework of cooperation on counter terrorism.
It is noted that Serbia regularly participated in regional counterterrorism and countering violent extremism conferences and in training exercises throughout Europe, and it is said that the Government of Serbia took a step further and continued its efforts to counter international terrorism in 2016.
As for the legislation, it is stated that in 2016, Serbia made a significant progress in adopting the “National Strategy for the Prevention and Countering of Terrorism for the Period 2016-2021.”
Serbia is facing several challenges regarding the country’s security and border security, as well.
Serbian authorities are said to be on alert because of the international terrorists trying to establish a presence on Serbian territory. In addition, the migrant crisis exposed numerous vulnerabilities in Serbia’s border security, which largely matched vulnerabilities facing neighbouring countries.
Regarding the border security, Serbia has well-developed cooperation programs with Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania. However, long sections of Serbia’s borders, remained unguarded, particularly those borders shared with Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Publication of this article has been supported by the Balkan Trust for Democracy of the German Marshall Fund of the United States