Bulgaria

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 2022 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 FTFs’ transit through enhanced border security activities, traveler screening, and information sharing.

2022 Terrorist Incidents:  There were no terrorist attacks reported in Bulgaria in 2022.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security:  The State Agency for National Security (DANS) is the lead agency 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 that concentrates internally on domestic threats.

In April, Bulgaria’s Parliament amended the Judiciary Act, closing the Specialized Criminal Courts with previous jurisdiction over terrorism cases and transferring jurisdiction to the Sofia City Court.  In July, Parliament amended Bulgaria’s Countering Terrorism Act to provide specific procedures for cases involving online incitement to terrorism.

Throughout 2022, Bulgaria continued to conduct 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.

The volume of illegal immigration from regions hosting terrorist networks (primarily Syria and Afghanistan) and corruption in law enforcement remain enduring obstacles to reliable interdiction of Known and Suspected Terrorists (KSTs) entering Bulgaria.  The number of KST identified through biometrics increased substantially in 2022, but a large portion of those identified are not apprehended at the border.  Instead, they are apprehended within Bulgaria’s interior.  Bulgarian asylum law, aligned with EU asylum regulations, limits Bulgaria’s ability to restrict the onward travel of KSTs.

Notable terrorism cases included the following:

  • In May, Bulgarian authorities arrested a Norwegian citizen on suspicion of involvement in a terrorist organization. The arrest was made in coordination with Norwegian authorities, and the individual was extradited in June to Norway, where prosecution is ongoing.  The Bulgarian authorities responsible for the arrest benefited from U.S.-provided assistance.
  • In July the Appellate Specialized Criminal Court revoked a lower court’s six-month suspended sentence for a self-radicalized youth arrested in 2019 on charges of plotting a terrorist attack in the city of Plovdiv with homemade explosive devices he built using ISIS online tutorials. The court noted a series of procedural violations and returned the case for retrial.  In November the Sofia City Court exonerated the young defendant from the terrorism charges and sentenced him for illegal possession of explosive materials.
  • In November, Bulgarian prosecutors charged five persons for supporting terrorist acts in connection with the November 13 terrorist attack in Istanbul.  Prosecutors alleged that the individuals provided logistical and communications assistance to a perpetrator of the attack, smuggling him out of Türkiye to evade authorities.

Countering Terrorist Financing:  Bulgaria is a member of MONEYVAL (the Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism).  Its FIU, the Financial Intelligence Directorate – State Agency for National Security is a member of the Egmont Group.  In June, MONEYVAL published Bulgaria’s mutual evaluation report.  The report identified several key findings, including that Bulgarian authorities had an uneven and limited understanding of terrorist financing (TF) risks, as well as low understanding of TF risks by Bulgarian financial institutions and other stakeholders.

Countering Violent Extremism:  In 2020 the government attempted to revise its 2015-20 Strategy for Countering Radicalization and Terrorism.  The strategy’s aim is to prevent “forced radicalization”; to combat “radical propaganda” and terrorist recruitment; to prevent terrorist activity within Bulgaria; to prosecute terrorist activities, leaders, and enablers involved in “radicalization” or terrorist activities in Bulgaria or abroad; to minimize the effects of terrorist activities; and to build societal trust and support for CT and CVE programs and activities.  However, the revision of the strategy was not completed under any of Bulgaria’s regular or caretaker governments in 2021 or 2022.

In April the Supreme Cassation Court overturned the Plovdiv Appellate Court’s 2021 verdict convicting 12 Romani Muslims on charges of supporting ISIS, assisting foreign fighters, propagating Salafi Islam (characterized by the government as an antidemocratic ideology), and incitement to war.  It then returned the case to the Pazardjik District Court for retrial.

International and Regional Cooperation:  Bulgaria is a member of and active contributor to CT initiatives at the United Nations, the EU, NATO, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the Organization for Black Sea Economic Cooperation.

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