Overview: Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) remained a cooperative counterterrorism partner and continued to make progress in increasing its counterterrorism capacity in 2015. BiH law enforcement agencies generally keep close track of foreign terrorist fighter suspects in BiH and carried out several operations against them. BiH's ministerial-level Joint Terrorism Task Force, tasked with improving coordination between BiH's many security and police agencies, continued to falter, and there were calls to restore a former operations-level counterterrorism task force that ceased operations three years ago due to funding constraints. Islamist extremist ideology and regional nationalist extremist groups both remained potential sources of violent extremism in BiH.
A significant number of Bosnians have traveled to Syria and Iraq to support ISIL and other terrorist groups. Legal and societal efforts to prevent violent extremism were credited with having reduced the outflow of foreign terrorist fighters compared to previous years. BiH officials and media sources estimate that since 2013, approximately 300 BiH citizens have left for Iraq and Syria to become foreign terrorist fighters. Fifty of these people have returned to the country. BiH sent a representative to the September Leader's Summit on Countering ISIL and Violent Extremism hosted by President Obama in New York on the margins of the 2015 UN General Assembly, during which the Chairman of the BiH Presidency stressed BiH support for full implementation of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.
2015 Terrorist Incidents: Two terrorism-related incidents occurred in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2015. In April, a 24-year-old Bosnian man from the Republika Srpska (RS) attacked a police station in Zvornik, killing one and injuring two police officers. The assailant was killed in a subsequent firefight with the police, who recovered two assault rifles, a pistol, and ammunition. In November, a reportedly radicalized 34-year-old male with a history of drug abuse and petty crime shot and killed two uniformed members of the BiH Armed Forces in a betting parlor in Rajlovac, a suburb of Sarajevo. The attacker then fired his assault rifle at another uniformed solider in a passing bus while fleeing the scene, injuring several more people. He was cornered by police at home soon after, where he committed suicide by detonating a hand grenade. In both instances, the lone offenders were suspected of having been radicalized in the months prior by individuals with known connections to violent Islamist extremists. Police claimed to have found ISIL propaganda in the home of the deceased Rajlovac assailant, including a crudely fashioned ISIL flag.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In 2015, BiH produced the Balkan region's first comprehensive Strategy for Preventing and Combating Terrorism (2015-2020). The strategy augments its "foreign terrorist fighter" law passed in July 2014 and discourages BiH citizens from participating in foreign paramilitary groups by imposing both imprisonment and monetary fines. It also places special emphasis on addressing challenges posed by "new dynamics of terrorism and terrorism-related phenomena," including foreign terrorist fighters, violent extremism and hate speech, and use of the internet for terrorist purposes.
The majority of BiH's coordination and cooperation problems are caused by overlapping law enforcement jurisdictions. The problems are also the result of personal, political, and institutional rivalries that exist among most police agencies and the BiH Prosecutor's Office and BiH Court. Many of these rivalries are deeply ingrained and difficult to overcome.
In February, BiH authorities completed the last of three counterterrorism operations initiated in November 2014, which targeted BiH citizens who traveled to fight in Syria and Iraq, and those who supported or aided them in their efforts. As a result of these operations, 34 BiH citizens have been arrested, of which 18 were prosecuted. On November 5, BiH courts convicted and sentenced Bilal Bosnic to seven years in prison for his role in recruiting and funding foreign terrorist fighters. In addition to Bosnic, four other BiH citizens were tried and convicted in 2015 for their roles in either recruiting or facilitating foreign terrorist fighters.
To track traveler entries into BiH, the BiH Border Police (BP) uses a computerized database and software system to support immigration and passenger information collection. The system links all 55 border crossings and all four airport locations (Banja Luka, Mostar, Sarajevo, and Tuzla) via the State Police Information Network (SPIN), a network developed and donated by the Department of State via the Department of Justice's International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP). Both the BP and the Foreigners Affairs Service (FAS) field offices are connected to this system that was first implemented in 2005 and completed in 2012. To address connectivity problems, the Department of State via ICITAP is funding a maintenance program to ensure all field offices are fully operational. SPIN provides the BP and FAS with immediate access to other supporting databases (including INTERPOL) to run appropriate checks and cross-checks. All law enforcement agencies in BiH have the capability to add data into this system.
Separately, ICITAP is working with the FAS to establish a biometrics system that will permit more effective monitoring of individuals entering and leaving BiH. The BiH biometrics program is fully compatible with EU systems.
Embassy Sarajevo's Export Control and Related Border Security (EXBS) program is also actively engaged in conducting training courses and equipment donations for BiH Customs and Border Police to address border security. EXBS donated 55 computers and a computer server to BiH Border Police to support ICITAP's donation of software for the border security database mentioned above. Additionally, EXBS recently donated "Secure Video Link" technology to the BiH, Serbian, and Croatian Customs and Border Police. In the event of a terrorist incident, or other emergency, this electronic networking platform facilitates immediate communication among each agency's operations centers. BIH participated in multiple regional and bilateral programs aimed at building investigative and prosecutorial capacity to successfully address terrorism-related cases. The Department of State's Antiterrorism Assistance program supported BiH participation in a series of border security-related courses aimed at countering foreign terrorist fighter travel.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: BiH belongs to 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-style regional body. Its financial intelligence unit is a member of the Egmont Group. In April, MONEYVAL referred Bosnia to the FATF International Cooperation Review Group (ICRG) process citing lack of progress rectifying core anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) deficiencies, including the criminalization of terrorist financing, thereby placing BiH on its "grey list." ICRG review has accelerated BiH efforts to amend its criminal code according to international AML/CFT standards. For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.
Countering Violent Extremism: The main religious communities in BiH (Catholic, Islamic, Jewish, and Orthodox) continued to work together through the Interreligious Council to promote tolerance and confront acts of bigotry or violent extremism directed at any of the communities. Among public figures, the leader of the Islamic Community in BiH, Reis Kavazovic, continued to speak out against "misinterpretations of Islam" that lead to violent extremism. On December 4, more than 37 political, religious, and cultural representatives of the Bosniak people attended a meeting with Kavazovic in Sarajevo to condemn violent radicalism and terrorism worldwide. The attendees issued a joint statement calling on Bosniak Muslims to follow "a middle way in Islam" and to confront radical Islamism and terrorism.
International and Regional Cooperation: BiH's criminal code and related legal framework are generally harmonized with UN and EU counterterrorism standards. The BiH government participated in the Leaders' Summit on Countering ISIL and Violent Extremism in September on the margins of the UNGA, and sent representatives to the Regional Summit on Countering Violent Extremism organized by the Department of State in Albania in May.
BiH law enforcement agencies regularly interacted with their U.S. and European counterparts on counterterrorism investigations. INTERPOL has a Sarajevo branch office that has good cooperation with all law enforcement agencies throughout the country, all of which have direct access to INTERPOL's databases. Regional cooperation amongst professional law enforcement with Croatia and Serbia improved in 2015. BiH participated in a range of counterterrorism and CVE programs sponsored by UN entities and regional organizations, including the OSCE.