The man hunted for more than 10 years on two UN indictments of genocide had apparently been freely wandering the streets of Belgrade in his new identity, helped by false papers.
But yesterday he was behind bars in the city, waiting for the almost-inevitable transfer to the UN war crimes court in The Hague.
A judge finished interrogating Karadzic yesterday and issued the order for his extradition. Karadzic, 63, a trained psychiatrist, has three days to appeal against the ruling. His lawyer said he intends to do so.
Accused of masterminding the deadly siege of Sarajevo and the 1995 massacre of up to 8,000 Muslims in the Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica, Karadzic topped the tribunal’s most-wanted list for more than a decade.
His whereabouts had been a mystery, with his hideouts reportedly including monasteries and mountain caves in remote eastern Bosnia.
Serbian security services found Karadzic while hunting another top war crimes suspect, General Ratko Mladic.
A government spokesman said Karadzic, once known for his distinctively coifed hairdo, was unrecognisable.
“His false identity was very convincing. Even his landlords were unaware of his identity,” he said.
He used a false name, Dragan Dabic. He was also a regular contributor to Belgrade’s Healthy Life magazine, whose editor Goran Kojic, said he was shocked when he saw the photo of Karadzic on TV.
“It never even occurred to me that this man with a long white beard and hair was Karadzic,” Kojic said.
Meanwhile, his family in Bosnia, banned from leaving the country over suspicions that they helped him elude capture, asked to have the restrictions lifted.
His daughter Sonja said they wanted to spend at least a few hours with Karadzic before his transfer to UN custody.
“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 to travel to Netherlands,” said Sonja.
The complexity of a case that encompasses most of the worst atrocities of the 1992-95 Bosnian war and likely legal wrangling stand in the way of a speedy trial.
“It will not be a quick trial, but I believe it can be held as soon as possible — possibly within a few years,” tribunal judge Frederik Harhoff said.
Governments worldwide hailed the arrest.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called it a “historic moment”: “The victims need to know: Massive human rights violations do not go unpunished.”
EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels said the arrest sets Serbia firmly on the path toward EU membership. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said: “This is a very good thing for the rapprochement of Serbia with the EU.”
In Sarajevo, Bosnian Muslims rushed into the streets to celebrate. “It demonstrates nobody is beyond the reach of the law and sooner or later all fugitives will be brought to justice,” said tribunal head prosecutor Serge Brammertz.
During the siege of Sarajevo, that began in 1992, Bosnian Serb troops starved, sniped and bombarded the city, from strongholds in Pale and Vraca high above the city and controlling nearly all roads in and out.
Inhabitants were kept alive by a thin lifeline of food aid and supplies from UN donors and peacekeepers. Walking down the street to shop for groceries or driving a main road dubbed “Sniper Alley” was often fatal. The siege was not officially over until February 1996. An estimated 10,000 people died.
The international tribunal indicted Karadzic on genocide charges in 1995. He continued to wield great power over Bosnian Serbs, occasionally appearing in public before going into hiding three years later.
The worst massacre was in Srebrenica in 1995. Serb troops led by Mladic overran the UN-protected enclave sheltering Bosnian Muslims. Mladic’s troops rounded up the population and took the men away for execution.
By war’s end in late 1995, an estimated 250,000 people died and another 1.8 million driven from their homes.
UNDER an indictment last amended in May 2000, the UN war crimes tribunal charged former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic with 15 counts of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and other atrocities committed between 1992 to 1996. Here is a summary of the charges.
* Six counts of genocide and complicity in genocide (Srebrenica and elsewhere in Bosnia);
* Two counts of crimes against humanity;
* One count of violations of the laws or customs of war;
* One count of a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions governing wartime conduct;
* One count of persecution;
* Two counts of deportations and other inhumane acts;
* One count of inflicting terror upon civilians;
* One count of taking hostages.
Here are excerpts from the 1995 UN war crimes tribunal indictment charging Karadzic and his wartime military commander, Gen Ratko Mladic.
* “They are criminally responsible for the unlawful confinement, murder, rape, sexual assault, torture, beating, robbery and inhumane treatment of civilians; the targeting of political leaders, intellectuals and professionals; the unlawful deportation and transfer of civilians; the unlawful shelling of civilians; the unlawful appropriation and plunder of real and personal property; the destruction of homes and businesses; and the destruction of places of worship.”
* “Thousands of Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat civilians, including women, children and elderly persons, were detained ... for protracted periods of time. They were not afforded judicial process and their internment was not justified by military necessity. They were detained, in large measure, because of their national, religious and political identity. The conditions in the detention facilities were inhumane and brutal ...
* “In many instances, women and girls who were detained were raped at the camps or taken from the detention centres and raped or otherwise sexually abused at other locations. Daily food rations provided to detainees were inadequate and often amounted to starvation rations. Medical care for the detainees was insufficient or non-existent and the general hygienic conditions were grossly inadequate.”
* “Karadzic and Mladic, individually and in concert with others, planned, instigated, ordered or otherwise aided and abetted in the planning, preparation or execution of unlawful attacks against the civilian population and individual civilians with weapons such as mortars, rockets and artillery.”