Overview: Bulgaria remains a strong counterterrorism partner of the United States. While the threat of terrorism in Bulgaria remains relatively low, the government has continued its CT capacity building, including through close and ongoing cooperation with U.S. government agencies, though some capability gaps remain. Given Bulgaria’s strategic location, many of these efforts have focused on disrupting the transit of FTFs through enhanced border security, traveler screening, and information sharing.
2020 Terrorist Incidents: There were no reported terrorist incidents in Bulgaria in 2020.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In June, Bulgaria’s Parliament amended the Law on Countering Terrorism and established a new interagency counterterrorism unit at the State Intelligence Agency. The unit comprises representatives of the State Intelligence Agency, the Ministry of Interior, the State Agency for National Security (DANS), the Military Intelligence Service, the Customs Agency, and the Prosecution Service. The unit is responsible for ensuring timely exchange of information among the participating agencies to prevent and disrupt terrorist acts. The new counterterrorism unit complements the National Counterterrorism Center, housed within DANS since 2014.
Bulgaria continues to implement strong migration controls and makes widespread use of available biographic and biometric screening programs to help identify suspect persons crossing their borders or illegally present in their country. U.S. government agencies continued to work closely with Bulgarian counterparts through a variety of CT capacity-building programs. The Departments of Homeland Security and State have partnered with Bulgaria to implement key screening programs in border and aviation security.
On February 24, Bulgaria’s Specialized Criminal Court sentenced an FTF to five years in prison. The Swiss national had been arrested on the Bulgarian-Turkish border in 2018 and was allegedly traveling to join ISIS in Syria.
In April, prosecutors filed an indictment against a student who self-radicalized to violence and was arrested in 2019 for allegedly plotting a terrorist attack in the city of Plovdiv. He is currently awaiting trial before the Specialized Criminal Court.
On September 21 the Specialized Criminal Court sentenced two suspects to life in prison without parole — the maximum possible penalty — for providing logistical support for the 2012 Burgas bus bombing that killed five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver. Although Hizballah was not named in the indictment, prosecutors affirmed there was sufficient evidence to link the attack to Hizballah. The defendants — a Lebanese-Australian dual national and a Lebanese-Canadian dual national — were tried in absentia. The Bulgarian government has not fully designated Hizballah as a terrorist organization.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Bulgaria is a member of MONEYVAL. Its FIU, the Financial Intelligence Directorate-State Agency for National Security is a member of the Egmont Group. Bulgaria is also a member of the Defeat-ISIS CIFG. There were no significant updates in 2020.
Countering Violent Extremism: In 2020 the Center for the Study of Democracy partnered with Intelday Solutions and the Safer Internet Center to launch the EU-funded “Find Another Way” campaign, which aims to build youth resiliency against far-right violent extremist messaging online and to promote alternative messages.
In August the Ministry of Interior conducted police training as part of an EU-funded project aimed at increasing the ministry’s capacity to prevent radicalization to violence. However, some activists and politicians criticized the training for targeting and stigmatizing Bulgaria’s Roma community.
International and Regional Cooperation: Bulgaria is a member and active contributor to CT initiatives at the United Nations, the EU, NATO, the OSCE, and the Organization for Black Sea Economic Cooperation. The country participated actively in the September meetings of the Aqaba Process chaired by Jordan’s King Abdullah. Bulgaria had initially offered to host the 2020 event, but the meetings were held virtually because of the COVID pandemic.