By Peter Finn and Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
BELGRADE, Serbia, July 22 -- Dragan Dabic, as he called himself, lectured on spirituality, practiced alternative medicine and promised on his Web site to vanquish afflictions ranging from impotence to autism with his "energy healing treatment."
His graying hippie disguise -- the ponytail, the big grizzly beard, the outsize spectacles -- was so good that Serbian secret police running a surveillance operation at first found it difficult to fathom who was in their sights. They were tracking suspected associates of the war crimes fugitive Radovan Karadzic, according to a police source, and had found their way to the strange New Age doctor.
On the run for more than a decade, Europe's most wanted man was captured Monday, Serbian authorities announced. The unmasking of Karadzic, 63, ended a manhunt for the Bosnian Serb leader whose name will forever be linked with the siege of Sarajevo and the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the city of Srebrenica, their bodies bulldozed into mass graves.
"He happily, freely walked around the city," Serbian war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic told reporters here Tuesday. "The people who rented him the apartment did not know his true identity."
Goran Kojic, editor in chief of Belgrade's Healthy Life magazine, said that Karadzic was a regular contributor to his publication and that he likewise had no clue as to his true identity. Karadzic was trained in prewar days as a psychiatrist, a background that appears to have helped him fit into the world of alternative medicine.
On Tuesday, the magazine released photos of the healer, dressed in black, attending a conference and glancing toward the camera with a look that might suggest trepidation.
Karadzic's brother, Luka, who was allowed to see him Tuesday, said the fugitive had been living in Belgrade for two or three years but had been out of touch with family members for more than a decade. Karadzic was so confident of his new identity that he reportedly was about to embark on a vacation at a spa for 10 days when he was captured.
Karadzic's daughter, Sonja, told the Associated Press that other family members wished to see him before his likely transfer to The Hague in the Netherlands to face a U.N. war crimes tribunal on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and other offenses.
"We even suggested traveling under police escort to see him for at least a few hours," she said. "For years, we have not seen our father, husband and grandfather; my mother's health is not very good, and we do not have the financial means necessary to travel to the Netherlands."
Karadzic's family in Bosnia has been under a travel ban because of suspicions that relatives had helped the fugitive evade capture.
On Tuesday evening, riot police patrolled central Belgrade, where a small group of nationalist youths chanted Karadzic's name. There were some minor incidents of violence, including scuffling with police and the breaking of a few shop windows. The crowd quickly dispersed.
The arrest prompted celebration in parts of Bosnia, including Sarajevo, where people poured into the streets after the news spread.
On Tuesday, a Serbian judge ordered Karadzic's transfer to The Hague to face the war crimes charges. Karadzic has three days to appeal his extradition. A final ruling on the appeal could come almost immediately after it is filed, officials here said -- a rejection would clear the way for him to be put on an airplane to The Hague immediately.
One of his attorneys said he will delay filing his appeal until Friday to slow down the transfer.
Officials provided few details about Karadzic's capture, saying that doing so could jeopardize future operations. Karadzic's former military commander, Gen. Ratko Mladic, remains at large, but "we are absolutely determined to finish this job," said Rasim Ljajic, head of Serbia's National Council for Cooperation with The Hague tribunal.
According to some reports, Karadzic had been under surveillance for some time following a tip from a foreign intelligence service. But Ljajic said Serbian security services found Karadzic while searching for other suspects.
"He was interrogated during the night. His identity was confirmed, and he was handed the indictment," prosecutor Vukcevic said. "He is defending himself mainly with silence."
Authorities reported that the arrest took place Monday night, but Karadzic's attorney said Tuesday that his client insists he was seized on Friday and held incommunicado over the weekend.
A quarter of a million people were killed in the Balkan wars, many of them civilians, as ancient ethnic hostilities erupted anew. Bosnian Serb forces, backed by the Yugoslav leadership in Belgrade, attempted to "ethnically cleanse" large parts of the former Yugoslav republic of Muslims and Croats to create a Greater Serbia. Military intervention by the NATO alliance, followed by a peace conference in Dayton, Ohio, in 1995, ended the war. Karadzic went into hiding in 1997 after NATO began to hunt for politicians and combatants charged by the war crimes tribunal.
Karadzic was widely believed to be hiding in the Serb-dominated areas of Bosnia, sometimes disguised as an Orthodox priest and moving between monasteries and other hideouts. He repeatedly eluded peacekeeping troops who staged numerous raids in Serb enclaves in eastern Bosnia.
Olga Kavran, a spokeswoman for lead war crimes prosecutor Serge Brammertz, said officials at The Hague had no details about when Karadzic would arrive.
When he does, Kavran said, he will make an initial court appearance, where he will be offered the chance to enter a plea. After that, he will be held in a prison cell during a pretrial period that will last at least several months. During that time, Kavran said, prosecutors will disclose evidence to Karadzic's attorneys.
She said his trial will be heard by a panel of three judges. If convicted, he would face life in prison; the tribunal has no death penalty. Kavran said Karadzic will be held in a cell with no special conditions and "treated like any other detainee."
"It's a huge day," said Nerma Jelacic, another spokeswoman for the tribunal. "People were writing us off."
Jelacic said that although the tribunal has indicted 161 people since it began operations, critics have unfairly dismissed it as ineffective because it had failed to bring high-profile fugitives such as Karadzic and Mladic to justice.
"It would be wrong to judge this tribunal only on the basis of this one accused," she said. "This is an important milestone for the tribunal and for international justice as a whole. This shows that the passage of time will not stand for impunity. Those responsible will be found and brought to justice."
The arrest also signaled the commitment of a new, pro-Western government in Belgrade to confront the past and accelerate the country's movement toward membership in the European Union, which had stalled over concerns by E.U. officials that previous Serbian governments were not committed to bringing war crimes suspects to justice.
"We have waited for this for 13 years. Finally. Finally," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in Brussels. "This is a very good thing for the rapprochement of Serbia with the European Union."
Sullivan reported from The Hague.