Friday, September 21, 2018

BiH has 'potential sources of terrorism', says U.S. State Department report

By Mladen Dragojlovic / Published on: 20-09-2018, 18:35

In its current report named "Country reports on terrorism 2017 in Europe", the U.S. State Department has marked Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) as a country with potential sources of terrorism.

"Extremist ideology and regional nationalist extremist groups remained potential sources of terrorism in BiH, and little progress was made on rehabilitation and de-radicalization", stressed the State Department's report.

It also warned that legislative loopholes and lenient sentencing remained major challenges. Some operational domestic coordination exists, but interpersonal and interagency infighting undermined effective cooperation.

"BiH did not pass any major counterterrorism legislation at the national level in 2017. The sub-state entity Republika Srpska adopted a new criminal code that aligns terrorism offenses with international standards and criminalizes membership in foreign paramilitary and para-police forces. At the state level, BiH also has laws prohibiting membership in para-military and para-police organizations, but sentencing remained a major challenge. Foreign terrorist fighters 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 may opt to pay a fine rather than serve time in custody.

Although the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) proposed a draft list of amendments to strengthen foreign terrorist fighter/counterterrorism legislation in 2017, there was little political will, including in the MoJ, to secure buy-in. The amendments have been stalled since June. A proposal to remove the option for convicted foreign terrorist fighters and terrorists to pay a fine in lieu of jail time, or to secure early release (both of these amendments were included in the MoJ draft), was under consideration in parliament at the end of 2017", the recent report reads.

The U.S. State Department emphasised the role of the State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) as the leading law enforcement unit performing counterterrorism functions and estimated that, with approximately 25 officers working on counterterrorism cases, its effectiveness is limited. In 2017, reads report, the BiH Ministry of Security proposed legislation to increase the number of counterterrorism-focused SIPA officers to approximately 50 by upgrading the relevant unit to a department.

"Law enforcement cooperation continued to suffer from interpersonal and institutional infighting. A BiH Prosecutor’s Office-led task force met only two times in 2017, and public disagreements between the Acting Chief Prosecutor, Minister of Security, and SIPA leadership undermined strategic progress on counterterrorism initiatives. At the operational level, law enforcement and prosecutors meet and work jointly on certain cases. However, shortages of counterterrorism investigators and interagency cooperation often led to investigative disruptions and the release of suspects after a brief detention", concluded the latest report, by the "Bureau of counterterrorism and countering violent extremism".... / IBNA