Country Report on Terrorism 2019 - Chapter 1 - Bulgaria

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. Bulgaria is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

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

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Bulgaria prosecutes terrorism under several general provisions of the penal code, which has been amended multiple times since it was first enacted in 1968. In 2015, the National Assembly adopted amendments to the penal code that provide for the prosecution of individuals, including FTFs, who support, plan, and facilitate the commission of terrorist acts in Bulgaria and abroad. Since 2017, the specialized court for organized crime and its prosecutors’ office have had jurisdiction to prosecute all terrorism cases in the country.

The Ministry of the Interior has operational units responsible for deterring, detecting, and responding to terrorist incidents, including the Specialized Unit for Combating Terrorism (SOBT), Security Police, and Special Police Forces, which successfully completed a multi-year training mission with a U.S. Special Operations Liaison Element. The State Agency for National Security (DANS) has intelligence-gathering units responsible for CT. Since 2014, DANS also houses the National Counterterrorism Center. In June, the interior minister and the prosecutor general announced plans to design new CT centers, though they have not yet made public additional details.

In 2017, Bulgaria implemented new legislation directing that public buildings, including schools, transportation hubs, and hospitality and tourism sites and facilities – as well as houses of worship and other public facilities – develop CT risk assessments and prevention and response measures in the event of a terrorist attack. In advance of the summer tourism season on the Black Sea coast, the Ministry of the Interior regularly updates its emergency plans in coordination with its foreign counterparts.

Bulgaria continues to implement strong migration controls and maintains an engineered obstacle (fencing with razor wire) and sophisticated monitoring systems along most of the EU’s “external” border with Turkey. Bulgaria makes widespread use of all available terrorist screening watchlists and shares API data from the biographic passport page of travelers arriving on passenger flights with other EU countries when it encounters watchlisted individuals. Based on bilateral police cooperation agreements, Bulgaria also shares this type of information with non-EU countries for law enforcement purposes on an as-needed basis. U.S. government agencies continued to work closely with Bulgarian counterparts through a variety of CT programs aimed at enhancing Bulgaria’s capacity and capabilities. The Department of State partnered with Bulgaria to implement key screening programs in border security and aviation security.

In June, local police arrested and charged a self-radicalized 16-year-old Bulgarian student with planning a terrorist attack in the city of Plovdiv. The suspect had reportedly assembled several improvised explosive devices. As of December, the specialized court for organized crime is still hearing the case against two suspected accomplices in Hizballah’s 2012 Burgas airport bombing, following procedural issues that caused multiple delays in the trial.

Bulgaria relies heavily on specialized law enforcement units like SOBT for a wide range of missions, including CT and border security operations, but it has not adequately invested in training and equipping these units. Moreover, resources are concentrated in Sofia and the units there lack the airlift capabilities needed to respond in a timely manner to incidents elsewhere in the country. Similarly, the specialized court for organized crime has not been adequately staffed and resourced to handle the increased workload resulting from its new jurisdiction over terrorism cases. Bulgarian authorities also do not have extensive and recent experience investigating and prosecuting CT cases and do not regularly employ interagency task forces that would be necessary to effectively handle complex investigations.

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 Coalition’s CIFG.

In September, Bulgarian prosecutors indicted a group of five Syrians and one Bulgarian on charges of terrorist financing. The General Directorate for Combatting Organized Crime arrested the group in January for allegedly transferring more than $10 million through the hawala system and purchasing and transporting to the Turkish-Syrian border more than 100 vehicles in support of terrorist organizations in Syria such as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham.

Countering Violent Extremism: The government is implementing its 2015-2020 Strategy for Countering Radicalization and Terrorism. In October, the government approved a report for activities undertaken in 2018 and an action plan for 2019.

In December, the Pazardzhik District Court sentenced to prison Islamic preacher Ahmed Mussa and 13 of his followers within the Roma Muslim community for propagating religious hatred and incitement to war in support of ISIS. The group had allegedly helped smuggle across the border several FTFs en route to Syria, though it is not clear whether they were fully aware of the FTFs’ terrorist affiliation, and some human rights groups have viewed the proceedings as an infringement on religious freedom. Mussa has been in prison since April, serving a four-year sentence for “spreading an antidemocratic ideology and incitement of war, religious hatred, and discrimination.” Bulgarian authorities continue to have concerns that the city of Pazardzhik could once again serve as a waypoint for FTFs if ongoing conflicts in the Middle East trigger another massive influx of migrants.

In December, the Bulgarian government co-hosted with the Department of State and the International Republican Institute a regional forum focused on building resilience to terrorist radicalization and recruitment in the Western Balkans. Participants from throughout the region explored ways to strengthen regional cooperation and increase the exchange of information in the fight against terrorism.

International and Regional Cooperation: Bulgaria is a member of and active contributor to CT initiatives at the UN, the EU, NATO, the OSCE, and the Organization for Black Sea Economic Cooperation.