Amid bursts of gunfire, the soldiers encircled a church and a rectory in the Pale stronghold of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. The targeted building was the home of three Serb Orthodox priests.
The peacekeepers, backed by local police, sealed off the area and bursts of machine-gun fire were heard, along with an explosion.
Shortly after troops entered the building, a priest, Jeremija Starovlah, 52, and his son Aleksandar, 28, were taken to the hospital in the northern town of Tuzla. Both men suffered multiple fractures and head wounds and were in a critical condition. Captain Dave Sullivan said the two were injured by small explosives used for opening doors during raids.
Jeremija Starovlah is a known Karadzic supporter. Just last week, he said it was the duty of every Serb cleric to help Karadzic evade arrest and prosecution before the UN war crimes tribunal.
The town of Pale was Karadzic’s headquarters during the Bosnian war and his wife and daughter still live there.
“This operation forms part of a sustained campaign against persons indicted for war crimes,” Capt Sullivan said. “They can run, but they can’t hide.”
Outraged at the action, about 3,000 people gathered to protest outside the church, carrying banners reading “Nobody will arrest a Serb”.
“We all are deeply insulted, jeopardised and humiliated as a nation,” said Slavko Kujundzic, the head of the Pale municipality.
NATO has tried unsuccessfully several times to arrest Karadzic, believed to be on the run inside the Bosnian Serb half of Bosnia. Karadzic and his fugitive general Ratko Mladic are accused of masterminding the massacre of up to 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica, Europe’s worst slaughter of civilians since the Second World War. The indictment described the 1995 killings by Bosnian Serb troops as “truly scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history”.