Overview: Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) remained a cooperative counterterrorism partner and continued to increase its counterterrorism capacity in 2018. Few BiH citizens attempted to travel to foreign battlefields in 2018, although dozens remain in Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine. BiH closed some legislative loopholes through amendments to terrorism provisions in its criminal code, although lenient sentencing remained a challenge. Some operational domestic coordination exists, but interpersonal and interagency infighting and stovepiping undermined effective cooperation. Extremist ideology and regional nationalist groups remained potential sources of terrorism in BiH. While little progress was made on rehabilitation and de-radicalization, the BiH Ministry of Security and the Interreligious Council made notable efforts to prevent and counter violent extremism. BiH is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.
2018 Terrorist Incidents: There were no reported terrorist incidents in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2018.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In May, the BiH Parliament adopted amendments to the criminal code to increase the minimum sentence for certain terrorist-related crimes from five to eight years, eliminate the ability of convicted terrorists to pay fines rather than serving time, and prohibit terrorists from securing provisional release (parole). Although the legislation increases the minimum sentence for the recruitment and training of FTFs from five to eight years, judges can still liberally apply mitigating circumstances, which allows them to reduce a five- or eight-year minimum sentence to just one year. Before this amendment, FTFs frequently received sentences below the minimum prescribed by the BiH criminal code, a result of judges taking mitigating circumstances into account. If sentenced to one year or less of incarceration, a convicted terrorist could opt to pay a fine and benefit from release on parole rather than serve time in custody. The May 2018 amendments foreclosed these two routes for convicted terrorists. If a judge finds mitigating factors, a one-year sentence cannot be converted into a fine or parole.
The Ministry of Security also convened a working group to draft further amendments to the criminal code. The draft amendments further align BiH law with EU directives on the suppression of terrorism and introduce three new crimes to the BiH criminal code: traveling and residing abroad for terrorism, misusing information technology or cyber technology for terrorist purposes, and forging documents for the purposes of terrorism. The draft amendments also strengthen an existing criminal code provision on training for terrorist activities. Statewide elections in early October and subsequent government formation make it unlikely that the amendments will be adopted swiftly, but there is political will to continue to strengthen these provisions.
The State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) is the lead law enforcement unit performing counterterrorism functions. With approximately 25 officers working on counterterrorism cases, its effectiveness is limited. A 2017 draft law to increase the number of counterterrorism-focused SIPA officers to approximately 50 by upgrading the relevant unit to a department is still pending adoption in parliament. Slow government formation after the October 2018 elections continues to delay the measure’s adoption. SIPA continues to receive training funded by the U.S. Department of State to ensure that key units can effectively investigate terrorism-related crimes.
Law enforcement cooperation continued to suffer from interpersonal and institutional infighting. A BiH Prosecutor’s Office-led task force met only once in 2018. At the operational level, however, law enforcement and prosecutors meet and work jointly on certain cases. However, shortages of counterterrorism investigators and interagency cooperation often led to investigative disruptions.
In March, the Ministry of Security’s signed a Memorandum of Intent to install PISCES at BiH airports and select land border crossings to enhance existing traveler screening processes. The Government of BiH is also considering use of API and PNR data as part of its integrated border management and in line with UNSCR 2396.
BiH continued its efforts to disrupt terrorist activity in 2018 through arrests and indictments:
- In April, SIPA arrested Maksim Božić and Edin Hastor in Sarajevo for suspected connections to ISIS. During the search conducted at Hastor’s home, SIPA seized a large cache of weapons, ammunitions, and hand grenades. In July, Božić and Hastor were indicted for allegedly planning terrorist attacks against SIPA and the Ministry of Interior of Tuzla Canton (in northeast BiH).
- In November, SIPA arrested a suspect at Sarajevo Airport on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activity. The suspect remained in custody at year’s end. Media outlets report the suspect is connected to the 2011 terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo.
- In December, sub-state entity Republika Srpska (RS) officials arrested a 48-year old FTF returnee on suspicion of forming and training groups to join a foreign terrorist organization. While this case was initially charged in RS, it is still possible the case will be transferred to the Sarajevo Prosecutor’s Office where terrorism cases have been prosecuted to date.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: BiH is a member of MONEYVAL. BiH’s FIU, the Financial Intelligence Department, is a member of the Egmont Group. BiH completed its FATF Action Plan and in February, was removed from the FATF “grey list,” and will no longer be subject to the FATF’s monitoring under its on-going global AML/CFT compliance process.
For additional information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.
Countering Violent Extremism: In 2018, the main religious communities in BiH (Catholic, Islamic, Jewish, and Orthodox) worked together through the Interreligious Council to promote tolerance and confront acts of bigotry or violence directed at any of these communities. The Interreligious Council also increased its coordination and activities with its 15 regional chapters, with a focus on increasing engagement with women and youth.
The BiH Ministry of Security, led by its coordinator for international and domestic efforts to prevent violent extremism, partnered with the international community on numerous CVE programs in BiH, including a project to create the first CVE referral mechanism, which was made possible through international assistance to the Government of BiH. Working in close partnership with the International Organization for Migration and other international organizations, BiH supported efforts to strengthen resiliencies within identified at-risk communities, developed the capacity of religious leaders and civil society actors to counter expressions of intolerance, and piloted comprehensive community-led intervention procedures at the local and municipal levels.
The BiH cities of Bihać, Bijeljina, Doboj, Jablanica, Prijedor, Srebrenik, and Tuzla Canton – and the municipality of Centar (Sarajevo) – are members of the Strong Cities Network.
International and Regional Cooperation: The State Prosecutor’s Office works frequently with counterparts in Serbia and Montenegro, and EU countries such as Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom on counterterrorism investigations. BiH is a member of the UN, the OSCE, the Regional Cooperation Council for Southeast Europe, and the Council of Europe.