Zihad Music was notorious in Bosnia--witnesses alleged he committed numerous atrocities and participated in purges. But sometime after 1993, Music--who has denied the charges against him--slipped into small-town Vermont, and the most feared man in Prijedor became a baker in Winooski.

Last night, the Senate passed legislation to make suspected war criminals such as Music less comfortable. The bill, approved on voice vote, would provide the Justice Department's Nazi-hunters unit with the first update to its charter, authorizing it to track down war criminals of the modern era.

"For too long, too many war criminals have sought and enjoyed refuge in the United States and our laws have been strangely silent about it," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, (D-Vt.), who introduced the legislation this summer.

The Denying Safe Havens to International and War Criminals Act of 1999 amends the Immigration and Nationality Act, expanding the grounds for inadmissibility and deportation to cover aliens who have engaged in acts of torture abroad.

It also widens the jurisdiction of the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations (OSI) to investigate, prosecute and remove any alien who participated in torture or genocide abroad--not just Nazis. It authorizes--but does not appropriate--more money for OSI to carry out its new mission.

"It would empower the OSI, the Nazi-hunting unit, to continue its life past the death of the last Nazi, and to begin to deal with contemporary human rights violators found in this country," said Gerald Gray, executive director of the Center for Justice and Accountability, a San Francisco human rights group.

The center estimates 7,000 to 10,000 human rights violators from recent wars in Haiti, Yugoslavia, Rwanda and other countries live in the United States, and has identified 60 by name. The center has filed three lawsuits on behalf of victims against a Serb Army torturer living in Atlanta, a Chilean intelligence officer and two Salvadoran generals in Florida.

Since its inception in 1979, OSI has stripped 61 Nazis of their U.S. citizenship, deported 49 and denied entry to 150.

Leahy's bill, which was co-sponsored by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), has also been introduced in the House, where congressional sources predicted the Senate vote will prompt action on the measure.

"This is very significant, especially if the Office of Special Investigations gets the resources it needs," said Nina Bang-Jensen of the Coalition for International Justice in Washington. "My experience doing advocacy and lobbying on behalf of the war crime tribunals is there's support from the far right to the far left."