Overview: With no terrorist attacks in 2020 and low levels of ISIS recruitment activities, the main terrorism concerns in Serbia remain the movement of money and weapons through the region, recruitment and return of FTFs, and terrorist self-radicalization through racially or ethnically motivated ideologies often related to nationalism or nationalist groups. Serbia has built on its efforts to counter terrorism and continues cooperation with the United States and international partners. Serbia pledged in September to designate Hizballah as a terrorist organization and to expand cooperation through implementation of traveler screening systems. The country is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.
2020 Terrorist Incidents: There were no reported terrorist incidents in Serbia in 2020.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Serbia’s Criminal Code criminalizes terrorism-related offenses including international terrorism, incitement, recruitment, using a deadly device, destruction and damage to a nuclear facility, terrorist financing, and terrorist association. Amendments to the Criminal Code in 2019 introduced life imprisonment for acts of terrorism resulting in the death of one or more persons and extended the application of terrorist financing to other crimes. The Criminal Code outlaws unauthorized participation in a war or armed conflict in a foreign country, prescribing incarceration from 6 months to 10 years for citizens who participate in foreign armed conflicts. In recent years, Serbia has sentenced individuals for participating in terrorist-related activities in Syria and for participating in the Russia-Ukraine conflict in eastern Ukraine, although the Ministry of Interior (MOI) appears to apply different standards to foreign fighters in the two conflicts, with returnees from Syria facing up to 15-year sentences and most returnees from Ukraine receiving suspended sentences. Serbia lacks legislation that more broadly covers conduct related to receiving terrorist training, funding terrorist organizations, and terrorist recruitment activities.
Although UNSCR 2396 calls upon member states to develop systems to screen PNR data, currently API and PNR screening programs are not in place in Serbia. Serbia pledged in September, as part of the Washington-brokered commitments on Serbia-Kosovo economic normalization, to implement information sharing agreements with the United States, strengthening screening measures. Serbia is integrating with the European Common Aviation Area and cooperates with international partners to enhance capacities in accordance with UNSCR 2309.
Also as part of the September Washington Commitments, Serbia pledged to designate Hizballah in its entirety as a terrorist organization, and fully implement measures to restrict Hizballah’s operations and financial activities in Serbian jurisdictions. Serbia has not yet made this designation or implemented measures.
There was no change to the way the courts address terrorism in 2020. Current law stipulates that the Belgrade Higher Court’s Special Department for Organized Crime hears terrorism-related offenses, and the Organized Crime Prosecutor’s Office prosecutes them. The Belgrade Appellate Court’s Special Department for Organized Crime hears appeals.
Serbia’s law enforcement capacities need improvement but are progressing. The Criminal Police Directorate’s Service for Combating Terrorism and Extremism (TES) works on terrorism detection, deterrence, and prevention. Serbia’s Operational Working Group consists of TES, the Security Information Agency, and the Prosecutor’s Office. Soft targets are required to have terrorism contingency plans, with TES officers providing consultation and oversight.
The Serbian Border Police’s System to Check Persons and Vehicles (SZPLIV) screens passengers and vehicles at all border crossings and other ports of entry. SZPLIV verifies the validity of travel documents through basic indicative security elements, collects biographic and biometric data, checks visa status, searches national and international databases, and stores the information. However, data transmission to the central system can take days.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Serbia is a member of MONEYVAL, a FATF-style regional body, and has observer status in the EAG. Its FIU, the Administration for the Prevention of Money Laundering (APML), is a member of the Egmont Group. In May the government implemented new legislative amendments to the Law on the Prevention of Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism to further align Serbia’s existing AML/CFT regime with recommendations of MONEYVAL and the EU’s Fifth AML Directive. In July, domestic and international organizations criticized an APML probe (later rebranded by APML as a “sectoral risk assessment”) of at least 57 NGOs and individuals as politicized use of AML/CFT measures to target groups critical of the government. In November the government proposed additional amendments to further improve AML/CFT measures — for example, measures related to virtual currencies. Serbia is in negotiations with the EU under Chapter 4 of the EU acquis (Free Movement of Capital), which requires alignment with international standards and improved administrative AML and CFT capacity.
Countering Violent Extremism: Serbia is implementing its National Strategy for the Prevention and Countering of Terrorism for the Period 2017-21 and accompanying Action Plan, which seeks to identify early factors leading to terrorist radicalization, enhance the security of its citizens, and intercept threats from social media activities. The Serbian intergovernmental CT working group meets regularly. The municipalities of Bujanovac, Novi Pazar, Presevo, and Tutin are members of the Strong Cities Network.
International and Regional Cooperation: Serbia is engaged in some regional and international cooperation on CT issues. The MOI and the Security Information Agency cooperate with INTERPOL and EUROPOL on CT activities, including watchlists. A participant in NATO’s Partnership for Peace, Serbia routinely participates in international law enforcement training. Police officers from the MOI’s Service for Combating Terrorism participated in a cyber training implemented by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice’s International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (or ICITAP).
Serbia cooperated with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) for arms control and border security programs that bolstered regional CT efforts. In March, Serbia cooperated with UNODC on a scoping mission for enhancing border security to enforce the UN conventions on drugs, crime and terrorism, and separately hosted the Regional Steering Group of the UNODC Global Firearms Program, which combats weapons trafficking in the region.
Serbia has well-developed bilateral border security cooperation programs with Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania. Serbia has a Tri-Border partnership with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. Serbian law enforcement agencies routinely engage with Albania, North Macedonia, and Montenegro.