Overview: Macedonia conducted three significant counterterrorism operations in 2016, one of which was in coordination with authorities in Albania and Kosovo, leading to the arrest of 23 people in Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia. Macedonia cooperated with U.S. counterterrorism efforts, demonstrating its strong commitment to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.
The government approved a National Counterterrorism Strategy in March. The strategy has a section dedicated to the prevention of violent extremism (PVE), but there is no separate National Strategy to Counter/Prevent Violent Extremism. The government drafted a National Counterterrorism Action Plan and submitted it to the European Commission in November for review. The Action Plan lacks implementation designations, funding estimates, and monitoring and evaluation controls.
Macedonian authorities assess that ISIS members and sympathizers maintained a presence in Macedonia.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Macedonia's laws contain comprehensive counterterrorism provisions that prohibit domestic and international acts of terrorism. The country's counterterrorism law includes a provision criminalizing civilian participation in foreign conflicts. Specifically, Article 322-a of the Criminal Code requires a five-year minimum prison sentence for participation in a foreign military or paramilitary force, or recruiting, training, or transporting fighters.
Macedonia's capacity to detect and deter acts of terrorism without international support needs to be strengthened. Specifically, police need training in command and control, tactical planning and execution, casualty care, and messaging. Notwithstanding, Macedonia successfully executed arrest and search warrants against foreign terrorist fighters and would-be foreign terrorist fighters; it also coordinated with regional partners to disrupt terrorist attack plans and to arrest Macedonian citizens attempting to join ISIS. Prosecutors secured prison sentences against foreign terrorist fighters primarily through plea agreements. Macedonian prosecutors have yet to bring a case to trial against a foreign terrorist fighter or supporter.
Within the Ministry of Interior (MOI), the Administration for Security and Counter-Intelligence takes the lead on counterterrorism detection and intelligence gathering, and works with the Bureau of Public Security's Department of Organized and Serious Crime to detain suspects. The Prosecutor's Office at the Ministry of Justice manages questioning and prosecuting of the arrested terrorist suspect.
A Joint Combined Exchange Training with U.S. Special Forces took place in March to improve Macedonia's ability to protect soft targets. Macedonian authorities at the MOI reported that they developed operational plans to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks on soft targets including stadiums, hotels, etc. Additionally, an international counterterrorism exercise in September brought together multiple agencies from the United States and Macedonia to review Macedonia's preparedness and response capacities.
Macedonia Border Police use INTERPOL and Europol watch lists that are regularly updated and they have biometric screening capability. The Border Police also share and receive information through alerts via the Joint Contact Centers with neighboring countries (Albania, Bulgaria, and Kosovo) and INTERPOL. In response to the influx of migrants, the European Union (EU) and Balkan countries regularly send border police detachments to assist in securing Macedonia's southern border.
Border authorities worked with European and U.S. partners to develop information-sharing protocols and upgrade the Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System (PISCES) border management system, improving its capacity to respond to the migration crisis and stem the flow of foreign terrorist fighters returning from conflict zones.
Macedonia engaged in three law enforcement actions against terrorists:
On July 9, Macedonian authorities carried out simultaneous search warrants at seven locations and arrested four individuals (a fifth individual turned himself in later on July 25), charging them under counterterrorism laws, in an operation called Operation Cell 2.
In August, authorities worked with regional partners in Turkey to arrest and extradite five citizens of Macedonia who were seeking to join ISIS in Syria.
In November, Macedonia coordinated with regional partners in Albania and Kosovo to arrest 23 suspected terrorists who were planning a terrorist attack on a large stadium in Albania during a World Cup qualifying soccer match between Albania and Israel.
In February, the trial began for 29 individuals charged with terrorism and planning to form a terrorist group, and eight others for providing logistical support in the May 2015 armed clash with police in Kumanovo. The trial continued through 2016.
A months-long political crisis in Macedonia inhibited decisive action by the government to address deficiencies in law enforcement and border security, including shortages in personnel and equipment. The 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 the border management system, Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System (PISCES).
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, a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body. Macedonia's financial intelligence unit (FIU), the Money Laundering Prevention Directorate (MLPD), is a member of the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units. In 2016, the MLPD received three suspicious transaction reports for terrorist financing, but no criminal charges were filed.
Major deficiencies in Macedonia's anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism legal framework remain, including insufficient criminalization of terrorist financing and no clear mechanisms to implement UN measures. In addition, an overly complicated confiscation regime that remains conviction-based hindered effective freezing and confiscation of terrorist assets. Macedonia has an agency for the management of seized and forfeited assets, but the agency has limited capacity and activity, and needs additional training.
For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2017 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: Macedonia has a national inter-ministerial Working Group on Counterterrorism (CTWG), which also oversees efforts to counter violent extremism, headed by a coordinator. The coordinator departed the post in the spring of 2016, and consequently, the CTWG has not effectively advanced government action and cooperation to counter or prevent violent extremism, in line with the recommendations of the UN Secretary-General's Preventing Violent Extremism Plan of Action.
The government has no official study on the drivers of violent extremism in Macedonia. Analytica, a local think tank, published a report in October funded by the United States titled, "Assessment of Macedonia's Efforts in Countering Violent Extremism." Based on initial studies, the drivers of extremism in Macedonia encompass similar factors as those driving global extremism, although somewhat compounded by the real and perceived marginalization of the ethnic Albanian population in Macedonia.
The Islamic Community of Macedonia launched countering violent extremism (CVE) training for imams in November, but thus far has only trained 20 imams. The international community held one meeting in November to discuss planned CVE assessments and programs.
International and Regional Cooperation: Macedonia is a willing partner both regionally and internationally on counterterrorism. Macedonia increasingly took advantage of the established framework of cooperation on counter terrorism with its neighbors, especially Albania and Kosovo. In June, former Minister of Interior Mitko Chavkov attended a conference in Bosnia and Herzegovina on regional cooperation in border security with representatives from Frontex, Europol, and Interior Ministers from Southeastern Europe. In July, Macedonia attended a regional conference in Montenegro to discuss counterterrorism and foreign terrorist fighter issues; the following month, Macedonia hosted a working-level conference with the same regional partners. Representatives from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs from Greece and Macedonia met in Skopje in November, with experts from relevant national institutions to discuss topics including police cooperation, response to security threats, and collaboration on EU programs. Also in November, Macedonia participated in an international counterterrorism tabletop exercise designed to illustrate whole-of-government coordination, collaboration, information sharing, and integrated counterterrorism planning.
Macedonia is also a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and hosted an OSCE-implemented workshop in September for criminal justice that brought together judges, prosecutors, and investigators from across the region to strengthen national capabilities and sustain inter-regional counterterrorism responses.