Country Report on Terrorism 2017 - Chapter 1 - Macedonia

Overview: Macedonia cooperated with U.S. counterterrorism efforts and was a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. Macedonia’s authorities assessed that ISIS members and sympathizers maintained a presence in Macedonia. Additionally, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) and Intelligence Agency estimated that at least 150 Macedonia nationals traveled to join terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq. Of that number, 30 were killed, 40 remained there, and 80 returned home to Macedonia.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: A Joint Combined Exchange Training with U.S. Special Forces took place in January to improve Macedonia’s ability to respond to terrorist incidents. Authorities at the MOI reported they developed operational plans to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks on soft targets including stadiums and hotels.

The MOI International Cooperation Unit upgraded from the Mobile INTERPOL Network Database (MIND) to the Fixed INTERPOL Network Database (FIND), with assistance from partner nations, to systematically screen travelers and documents at border crossings against INTERPOL databases on terrorists, fugitives, and lost and stolen travel documents. Macedonia Border Police used INTERPOL and Europol watch lists that are regularly updated and they have biometric screening capability. The Border Police also shared and received information through alerts via the Joint Contact Centers with neighboring countries (Albania, Bulgaria, and Kosovo) and INTERPOL.

Additionally, the MOI’s Bureau of Public Security worked with U.S. authorities to address corruption among border officials, resource constraints, training gaps for border police officers, and issues related to border management.

Macedonia engaged in one terrorist-plot disruption operation. In April, just before the Orthodox Easter observance, Macedonia’s authorities, in coordination with a regional partner, detained persons of interest for questioning. No charges were filed as a result of the operation.

Authorities conducted approximately four terrorism investigations into suspected terrorism-related activity of approximately 50 individuals.

On November 2, the Skopje Criminal Court found 33 defendants guilty of terrorism charges and acquitted four in connection with the May 2015 armed incident in Kumanovo, which left eight police officers and 10 members of the armed group dead. The court issued life sentences to seven defendants while another 13 were sentenced to 40 years in prison. An additional 13 were sentenced to lesser terms ranging from 12 to 20 years in prison. On November 3, another defendant who had been tried separately in connection with the same 2015 incident was sentenced to life in prison.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Macedonia 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 (MONEYVAL), a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body. Macedonia’s financial intelligence unit, the Financial Intelligence Office (FIO), is a member of the Egmont Group and developed new indicators for financial transactions that could be related to terrorism financing in 2017. Macedonia’s anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism legal framework remains largely in compliance with international standards, especially after it incorporated the latest FATF recommendations. The government continued to address deficiencies noted in MONEYVAL’s Fourth Round Evaluation Report from 2014 by drafting a new law on restrictive measures. Pending approval in parliament, the draft law will harmonize domestic legislation with United Nations Security Council resolution 1373 as well as with FATF recommendations on targeted financial sanctions related to terrorism and proliferation.

Deficiencies remained in Macedonia’s confiscation regime, which remains conviction-based and hinders effective freezing and confiscation of terrorist assets. Macedonia has an agency for the management of seized and forfeited assets, but it has limited capacity and activity. In 2017, Macedonia’s FIO received two suspicious transaction reports for terrorist financing and has sent three reports to relevant institutions for further investigation.

For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2018 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.

Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): In July, the government created and appointed a 44‑member National Committee for Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) and Counterterrorism (CT) as well as a National Coordinator for CT/CVE with a Deputy Coordinator for CT and a Deputy Coordinator for CVE. The government tasked the Committee and Coordinators to revise the 2017-2020 National CT Strategy and to draft a new National CVE Strategy as well as CT and CVE National Action Plans. The National CT/CVE Committee and Coordinator met for the first time in November to map out a plan to draft the National CVE Strategy and Action Plan, however, the government failed to provide funding to implement this plan.

The Islamic Community of Macedonia (ICM) said that it incorporated counter narratives into Friday sermons with Muslim worshipers. The ICM also conducted one CVE training session for approximately 12 imams. Local think tanks continued to research the drivers of terrorism.

The Macedonian municipalities of Aracinovo, Cair (Skopje), Gostivar, Kicevo, Kumanovo, Ohrid, Struga, and Tetovo are members of the Strong Cities Network.

International and Regional Cooperation: Macedonia is a willing regional and international counterterrorism partner. Fourteen members of the National CT/CVE Committee and the National CT/CVE Coordinator and Deputies participated in a three-day U.S.-funded counterterrorism-themed regional Tabletop Exercise (TTX). During the event, which was co-organized with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, participants read through a foreign terrorist fighter scenario and discussed what the government could do during the prevention, intervention, and rehabilitation phases. Participants in the TTX included delegations from Albania and Kosovo, led by those countries’ National CVE Coordinators. The Prime Minister provided opening remarks at the exercise emphasizing a whole-of-society approach to address terrorism.

Macedonia’s Border Police and Customs are members of the Southern Border Initiative, whose goal is to establish a cross-border working group consisting of border security agencies from Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Montenegro to combat corruption, illicit cross-border trafficking, transnational crime, and terrorism.