Overview: Bulgaria remained a strong counterterrorism partner of the United States. While the threat of terrorism in Bulgaria remains low, foreign terrorist groups take advantage of Bulgaria’s active illicit smuggling and trafficking networks to attempt to facilitate entry of terrorists into Europe from the Middle East and South Asia. In 2021, the government continued counterterrorism capacity building and maintained close cooperation with U.S. government agencies, though capability gaps continued to hinder overall effectiveness. Given Bulgaria’s strategic location as a crossroads between Europe and the Middle East, most of Bulgaria’s CT efforts focus on disrupting FTF transit through enhanced border security activities, traveler screening, and information sharing.
2021 Terrorist Incidents: There were no terrorist attacks reported in Bulgaria in 2021.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The State Agency for National Security (DANS) is the lead for counterterrorism in Bulgaria. A separate National Counterterrorism Center, operating within DANS since 2014, aims to identify suspects, exchange information, and disrupt terrorist activities. The State Intelligence Agency also contains a small, primarily analytic CT capability and an equally small operational capability focused on threats to Bulgarian interests abroad. The Ministry of Interior contains a separate Special Weapons and Tactics team focused internally on domestic threats.
Throughout 2021, Bulgaria continued to conduct effective counterterrorism activities at its borders, executing strong migration control programs, U.S.-enabled biographic and biometric screening programs, and information sharing with the United States and other partners to identify and apprehend terrorist suspects crossing the borders or illegally residing in the country. Throughout the reporting period, U.S. government agencies worked closely with Bulgarian counterparts through a variety of border-focused CT capacity building programs. For example, the Departments of Homeland Security and State partnered with Bulgaria to implement screening programs in border and aviation security.
In 2021, two caretaker governments were responsible for eight months of the reporting period. As such, no major legislative changes occurred related to counterterrorism. Rather, political instability went hand in hand with uncertainty over the status of Specialized Criminal Courts with jurisdiction over terrorism cases. Judges and prosecutors in the specialized courts were ill-equipped to prosecute terrorists as they worked under legislative gaps and deficiencies.
Notable terrorism cases included the following:
- In February, prosecutors indicted Bulgarian national of Syrian descent Mohammed Abdulkader for actively supporting terrorism in Syria as a foreign terrorist fighter. Authorities reported Abdulkader’s father recruited him, and he traveled to Syria five times from 2017 through 2019 to fight with terrorist groups in Aleppo.
- In December, the Specialized Criminal Court issued a six-month suspended sentence against a minor who was arrested in 2019 at age 16 in Plovdiv on charges of plotting a terrorist attack using homemade IEDs, which he built using ISIS online tutorials. He reportedly was unaffiliated with any terrorist group.
Countering Terrorist Financing: In September, the Bulgarian government adopted an action plan targeting terrorist financing and money laundering. The government based this plan on an interagency working group national risk assessment — a first of its kind — finalized in 2020. There were no incidents of cases involving terror financing in Bulgaria.
Countering Violent Extremism: The government is implementing its 2020 revision of the 2015-25 Strategy for Countering Radicalization and Terrorism. The aim is to prevent “forced radicalization”; combat “radical propaganda” and terrorist recruitment; prevent terrorist activity within Bulgaria; prosecute terrorist activities, leaders, and enablers involved in “radicalization” or terrorist activities in Bulgaria or abroad; minimize the effects of terrorist activities; and build societal trust and support for CT and CVE programs and activities.
In February the Plovdiv Appellate Court confirmed the Pazardjik District Court’s 2019 verdict against preacher Ahmed Mussa and 11 other Romani Muslims on charges of supporting ISIS, assisting foreign terrorist fighters, and “propagating Salafi Islam,” which the court characterized as an “antidemocratic ideology and incitement to war.”
International and Regional Cooperation: Bulgaria is a member of and active contributor to CT initiatives at the UN, the EU, NATO, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the Organization for Black Sea Economic Cooperation.