Overview: In recent years, the most direct terrorism threats to Panama have been posed by elements of the 57th and 34th Fronts of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which have long operated illegally in the Darién region of Panama. The 30th Front is also known to actively transport illicit narcotics. Panama's successes in combatting these groups in the region, as well as progress in the peace talks between the Government of Colombia and the FARC, have greatly reduced the threat posed by the FARC within Panamanian territory. Panama maintains close cooperation with its neighbors, particularly Colombia, in an effort to secure its borders.

Panama's Darién region remains a significant and growing pathway for human smuggling, which includes elements of counterterrorism significance. Representatives of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation work with Panamanian authorities to identify smuggled aliens, with a particular focus on those who raise terrorism concerns.

The Panama Canal Authority has been vigilant in its efforts to maintain a secure Canal and enjoys international support in this mission; however, the Panama Canal Authority remains at risk for the illicit transit and transshipment of strategically-controlled, dual-use goods and technologies, and military goods. More than 60 percent of Panama's container traffic is either bound for, or departing from, U.S. ports, and more than five percent of all global container traffic passes through the Panama Canal, making Panama a key country of geopolitical significance along a critical transit and trade route.

On February 5, the Ministry of Foreign Relations issued a statement expressing Panama's "rejection of the violent acts and the grave violations to human rights perpetrated by the IS [Islamic State] group" and announced its intention to "join the efforts of the international community to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations." In so doing, Panama became the first Latin American country to join the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL. Panama has been involved in the Coalition's Counter-Finance Working Group.

2015 Terrorist Incidents: During protests held on July 7, assailants threw a homemade bomb which caused second-degree burns on two individuals. The 10 individuals implicated in this attack, seven of whom are minors, have been charged with terrorism and other associated crimes and remained detained by Panamanian authorities at the end of 2015.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Acts of terrorism are criminalized within Title IX, Chapter 1 of the Panamanian criminal code. Individuals who attempt to disturb the public peace, cause panic, terror, or fear in the population, or a subset thereof, through the use of radioactive materials, weapons, fire, explosives, biological or toxic substances, or any other means of massive destruction or element with that potential, are subject to prison sentences ranging from 20 to 30 years. Panamanian law also sanctions any individual who knowingly finances, grants, hides, or transfers money, goods, or other financial resources for use in the commission of the above referenced crimes to a period of confinement ranging from 25 to 30 years in prison. Those who use the internet to recruit terrorists or to provide bomb-making instructions are subject to confinement of five to 10 years.

In order to improve the Government of Panama's capacity and capabilities with regards to counterterrorism, the Department of Justice's Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance, and Training (OPDAT), the Department of Defense's Security Programs including the Combating Terrorism Fellowship Program (CTFP), and the Department of State's Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) Program and Export Control and Border Security (EXBS) Programs, work in concert with Panamanian authorities. These efforts are supplemented by capacity building initiatives led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Department of Defense, and Homeland Security Investigations which also enhance Panama's law enforcement capacity to respond to terrorism. However, Panamanian security services continue to compete for resources, diminishing the incentive for collaboration, lessening the likelihood that enforcement agencies will focus on maintaining skills and equipment. While recent joint operations between the services have been successful, the government remains in the development phase of fostering interagency cooperation. Strategic budgeting, including for operations and maintenance, as well as long-term training program development continue to be significant areas of need.

The Panamanian government has continued its efforts to exert sovereignty in the underserved Darién region through the use of its security forces, principally the National Border Service (SENAFRONT). SENAFRONT's successes over the previous years have degraded the capabilities of the FARC to such an extent that it no longer maintains a permanent presence in Panamanian territory. However, narco-trafficking organizations and Colombian-origin criminal gangs (known as the BACRIM) continued to cause instability within the province. The Government of Panama maintains counterterrorism units within SENAFRONT, the National Air-Naval Service (SENAN), the Panamanian National Police (PNP), and the Institutional Protection Service (SPI; which is responsible for the protection of Panamanian and foreign dignitaries, as well as critical infrastructure, such as the Panama Canal). However, interagency coordination, cooperation, and information sharing remained limited.

In 2013, Panamanian forces searched and detained the North Korean-flagged merchant vessel Chong Chon Gang for transiting the Canal with illicit cargo. The search of the vessel found arms and related materiel which violated UN Security Council Resolutions prohibiting transfer of such items to North Korea. In February 2014, North Korea paid a $693,333 fine to the Panama Canal Authority and the ship left Panama with most of the crewmembers. Panamanian authorities charged the Captain, First Officer, and Political Officer of the vessel with possession and trafficking of arms and explosives. These individuals were acquitted in June of 2014 and left the country, despite an appeal filed in July 2014. In May 2015, a Panamanian court of appeals significantly revised the June 2014 trial court decision, finding both the Captain and the First Officer guilty of the crimes of possession and trafficking of arms and explosives and sentenced them to 12 years confinement, in absentia. The court upheld the acquittal of the Political Officer finding that there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate that he formed part of the "principal chain of command" of the vessel. This ruling has created an avenue for the definitive forfeiture of the military articles.

A key focus of counterterrorism efforts in Panama has been securing the borders as well as the airports and seaports throughout the country. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) continued to cooperate with Panamanian authorities at Tocumen International Airport and has been successful in utilizing the linkage between Panama's Advance Passenger Information (API) System and CBP targeting systems. Panama collects nearly 100 percent of API data and actively seeks more complete Passenger Name Record (PNR) data. CBP continues to work with Panamanian authorities to improve their capacity to capture and transmit all API and PNR data. Mobile security teams, including those operating under the CBP Joint Security Program, partner with host country law enforcement officers operating in Tocumen International Airport to identify air passengers linked to terrorism, narcotics, weapons, and currency smuggling, as well as to identify and intercept fugitives, persons associated with organized crime, and other travelers of interest.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Panama is a member of the Financial Action Task Force of Latin America (GAFILAT), and its financial intelligence unit, Unidad de Analisis Financiero, is a member of the Egmont Group. In 2015, Panama strengthened its legal framework, amended its criminal code, and passed a new anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism law in 2015 that brings designated non-financial businesses and professions and entities in the Colon Free Zone into the supervisory framework in order to more effectively counter potential terrorism financing vulnerabilities in these sectors.

In 2015, Panama passed Law 10 and Law 34, which amended the criminal code by adding predicate offenses that typify terrorism financing and money laundering. Panama passed Law 23 which allows the government to freeze, seize, and confiscate the instruments and proceeds of criminal enterprises, including terrorism financing. The implementing regulations allow for the assets to be frozen for persons or entities listed under UN sanctions regimes. Panama also passed Law 149, which reformed Article 116 of the Criminal Procedure Code which rescinded previous modifications to Article 116 and eliminated the statute of limitations in cases of terrorism.

Panama has yet to identify and freeze assets belonging to terrorists or sanctioned individuals and organizations; it has not prosecuted any terrorism financing cases. For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.

Countering Violent Extremism: The United States and Panama continued to work together to create opportunities for residents of the Darién region to deter local recruitment by the FARC, transnational criminal organizations, and narco-trafficking organizations. The Panama Office of Defense Cooperation maintains a robust program designed to develop and refine Panama's civil affairs and information operations capacity as part of the overall strategy to enhance governability and state control in an underdeveloped and underserved region. These teams work with Panamanian officials to distribute medical supplies to local communities and provide key information about threats facing the populace. Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) programs also provide some local youth with vocational and technical training to better prepare them for the labor market and to provide viable alternatives to criminality and terrorism.

International and Regional Cooperation: Panama was the first Latin American nation to join the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL. Panama is also an active participant in the United Nations and regional security initiatives such as the OAS-CICTE. Panama and Colombia maintain a bilateral commission that continues to meet on a yearly basis to address topics of mutual concern, including illicit migration, narco-trafficking, transnational criminal organizations, and elements of the FARC operating in the region surrounding their shared border.


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