Country Report on Terrorism 2019 - Chapter 1 - North Macedonia

Overview: North Macedonia cooperated with U.S. CT efforts and was a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. With no terrorist attacks in 2019 and no reported departures of its citizens to join ISIS, the main terrorism threat North Macedonia faced consisted of returned FTFs from Syria and Iraq. North Macedonia’s authorities assessed that ISIS members and sympathizers maintained a presence in North Macedonia. The National Committee for Countering Violent Extremism and Countering Terrorism (NCCVECT) estimated 156 citizens of North Macedonia have traveled to join terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq. Of that number, 36 were killed, 37 remain, and 83 returned to North Macedonia. The country’s authorities acknowledged an unconfirmed number of family members reside in refugee camps in Syria.

2019 Terrorist Incidents: There were no reported terrorist incidents in North Macedonia in 2019.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: North Macedonia’s legislative framework is adequate to prosecute individuals and groups suspected of committing or aiding terrorist activities or participating in foreign wars. Low sentencing for terrorism-related offenses remains a challenge.

Six of the seven FTFs repatriated in August 2018 were re-sentenced in November, following the appellate court’s decision to return the case to the first instance court. They again pleaded guilty to participation in a terrorist organization, and each received the same six-year sentence. One of the six FTFs continues to contest his remaining charge of membership in a terrorist organization, while the seventh FTF’s case has been severed from the others and is delayed as he receives medical treatment.

North Macedonia’s law enforcement capacity to proactively detect, deter, and prevent acts of terrorism improved because of numerous training sessions. The Ministry of Interior’s (MOI’s) newly named “Terrorism and Violent Extremism Sector” continued to take the lead in performing law enforcement-related CT functions. In September, the Agency for National Security replaced the Department for Security and Counterintelligence as a distinct entity separate from the MOI. Two major units comprise MOI’s “Terrorism” sector – terrorism investigations and explosive ordinance detection and destruction. In 2019, the U.S. Department of State provided numerous training sessions for law enforcement officers, as well as mentorship, and it donated hardware, software, and crime scene forensic tools to the country’s law enforcement CT partners. Embassy Skopje supported a “Friendly Patrols” project by mentoring six retired police officers, who trained about 120 active police officers and community members to recognize the early signs of terrorist recruitment and radicalization.

North Macedonia continues to enhance its ability to screen for terrorists as part of a comprehensive approach to border security, with support and cooperation from the United States. In February, North Macedonia committed to implementation of the use of API/PNR data to screen for known or suspected terrorists and/or criminals.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: North Macedonia is a member of MONEYVAL. North Macedonia’s FIU, the Financial Intelligence Office (FIO), is a member of the Egmont Group. In 2019, the government adopted necessary bylaws to the Law on Restrictive Measures, including Guidelines for the Implementation of Financial Restrictive Measures Against Terrorism and Proliferation; a decision for establishment of a coordinative body to monitor implementation of restrictive measures; and a rulebook on maintaining a list of designated persons against whom financial measures for terrorism have been introduced. The FIO, in cooperation with the NCCVECT, prepared guidance for NGOs regarding their exposure risk to terrorism financing. The Council for AML/CFT gathered about 100 representatives from the public and private sectors to update the National Risk Assessment (NRA), using World Bank methodology. The updated NRA and accompanying Action Plan are with the government, awaiting endorsement and then parliamentary approval. Jordan provided the FIO with grant funding to upgrade its software for the exchange of data on designated individuals and entities of terrorism financing concern. The FIO received six suspicious transaction reports for terrorist financing in 2019 and submitted them to relevant institutions for further processing.

Countering Violent Extremism: The government continued to implement the action plan associated with the National CVE Strategy, adopted in March 2018. The NCCVECT assessed the level of implementation as “satisfactory.” In partnership with the OSCE, the NCCVECT organized a series of roundtables across the country to raise awareness around the national CT and CVE strategies and action plans. The NCCVECT assisted the multi-stakeholder Community Action Teams established in Kichevo, Gostivar, and Cair (a municipality in the capital city of Skopje), to develop and implement their Action Plans focused on preventing terrorist radicalization and recruitment. With support from the SCN, Kumanovo also established a Community Action Team in September. The municipalities of Aracinovo, Cair, Gostivar, Kicevo, Kumanovo, Ohrid, Struga, and Tetovo are members of the SCN.

In conjunction with international donors, the NCCVECT supported numerous projects focused on recognizing the “early signs of radicalization and building community resilience to terrorist ideas” by training and engaging youth, parents, educators, and law enforcement officers. Among other initiatives, with funding from the U.S. Department of State’s CT Bureau, the United States supported the NCCVECT through an imbedded expert on countering radicalization and recruitment, and it supported the Women Without Borders’ Mothers’ Circles program to expand to three additional municipalities. A UK-funded project engaged the family members of convicted terrorism offenders to provide a clearer picture of the challenges these families face and the social assistance needed. The International Organization for Migration is using this analysis to help inform its new program focused on reintegration. Despite these nascent efforts, North Macedonia currently has no reintegration and rehabilitation programs in place, and no humanitarian aid programs are underway to assist returnees.

International and Regional Cooperation: Since the NCCVECT was established in 2017, it has focused on increasing regional cooperation. In 2019, North Macedonia cooperated with other Western Balkan countries on critical infrastructure protection, prison radicalization and the tools available to counter it, and the repatriation of FTFs and their family members. North Macedonia initiated closer cooperation with regional countries’ intelligence agencies to share CT-relevant information. With EU support, North Macedonia adopted and signed a Joint CT Action Plan among Western Balkan countries, part of the Western Balkans Six initiative.