Monday’s capture of Radovan Karadzic, 63, the wartime leader of the Bosnian Serbs and one of the world’s most-wanted men, ended a 13-year manhunt for a genocide suspect said to have resorted to elaborate disguises to elude authorities.
Serbian president Boris Tadic’s office said in a statement that Karadzic was arrested “in an action by the Serbian security services”.
It was a stunning announcement. Although authorities were said to be closing in on General Ratko Mladic, who was also indicted in 1995 for genocide and crimes against humanity in Bosnia, Karadzic’s whereabouts remained a mystery for years. Many had all but given up hope that he would ever be brought to justice.
Karadzic’s reported hideouts included Serbian Orthodox monasteries and refurbished mountain caves in remote eastern Bosnia. Some newspaper reports said he had at times disguised himself as a priest by shaving off his trademark silver mane and donning a brown cassock.
With Nato-led peacekeepers under orders to arrest him on sight, associates said he sometimes travelled in ambulances with flashing lights to zip through Nato checkpoints to spend time with his wife, Ljiljana Zelen-Karadzic, daughter Sonja and son Aleksandar Sasa, in Pale, the wartime Bosnian Serb capital.
Karadzic reportedly also visited his sick mother in the mountains of neighbouring Montenegro, and in 2002 went to Budva on the Adriatic coast.
Those in his inner circle even claimed that a disguised Karadzic once sneaked into Sarajevo and had coffee with friends.
Karadzic hobnobbed with international negotiators and his interviews were top news items during the three-and-a half-year Bosnian war, unleashed after Serbs there revolted against the republic’s 1992 decision to secede from Yugoslavia.
But that changed by the time the war ended in late 1995 with an estimated 250,000 dead and another 1.8 million people driven from their homes.
A hunted man after being indicted twice by the UN tribunal for genocide, Karadzic’s isolation and vulnerability grew as the years passed without any sign that the world was ready to forgive his alleged crimes against Bosnia’s Muslims and Croats.
Born June 19, 1945, to a poor rural family in Montenegro, Karadzic trained as a psychiatrist and moved to Sarajevo with his wife and two children in the 1960s.
He regularly played high-stakes poker with his Muslim and Croat neighbours — feeding a gambling passion later pursued in the casinos of Geneva. There, between shopping sprees for gold watches and designer suits, Karadzic spent months in futile, whisky-laden talks with international mediators trying to end Bosnia’s war.
That future seemed far off when the flamboyant Karadzic, a sometime poet and enthusiastic player of a single-string Serbian instrument, the gusle, entered politics in 1989 as head of the Bosnian Serb Democratic Party.
In 2003, Bosnia’s top international official at the time, Paddy Ashdown, ordered the assets of Karadzic’s family frozen because of suspicion they were helping him evade capture. Even so, posters of Karadzic emblazoned with: “Don’t touch him!” popped up around the Balkans — by supporters who still considered him a hero.
Despite the scattered support, Karadzic remained a ghost. After September 1996, he was rarely seen in public.