Dragan Dabic, as he called himself, lectured on spirituality, practiced alternative medicine and sold amulets on a Web site that promised...
BELGRADE, Serbia — Dragan Dabic, as he called himself, lectured on spirituality, practiced alternative medicine and sold amulets on a Web site that promised to vanquish afflictions ranging from impotence to autism with his “energy healing treatment.”
His graying hippie disguise — the ponytail, the grizzly beard, the outsize spectacles — was so good that Serbian secret police running a surveillance operation at first found it difficult to fathom it was war-crimes fugitive Radovan Karadzic.
On the run for more than a decade, Europe’s most-wanted man was captured Monday. 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 in Srebrenica of 8,000 Muslim men and boys, their bodies bulldozed into mass graves.
“He happily, freely walked around the city,” Serbian war-crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic said Tuesday. His true identity was unknown to his landlords, neighbors, the man who designed his Web site and the editor of the magazine for which he wrote.
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Foes and supporters alike were left to marvel at what appeared to be his complete metamorphosis. As Serbs grappled Tuesday with the repercussions of his arrest and his place as a symbol of crimes carried out in their name, they also were left to sort out the two lives of a single man.
The fatigues-wearing leader of the Bosnian Serbs, once known for his distinctively coifed hairdo and tailored business suits, was unrecognizable in a guise that was part guru and part Santa Claus.
As Dabic, the former psychiatrist worked for years in a clinic in Belgrade, the Serbian capital, practicing alternative medicine. He even lectured on videotape at local community centers and lived an open and active life that would appear to be an extraordinary risk for one of the world’s most wanted men.
Goran Kojic, editor in chief of Belgrade’s Healthy Life magazine, said Karadzic was a regular contributor to his publication and he, likewise, had no clue as to his true identity.
Kojic and the man calling himself Dabic attended seminars together, and Kojic on occasion gave him a ride home.
“It was a brilliant camouflage,” Kojic said Tuesday. “He left a calm impression of a cultured man who was funny, eloquent. You’d want him to be your friend.”
Karadzic was also running a Web site, which he called Human Quantum Energy. On it he was offering treatment for impotence and depression and hawking metal amulets as protection against radiation and other ills.
On the run
Karadzic’s whereabouts had been a mystery since he went on the run in 1998. For most of his years in hiding, Karadzic was sustained by donations from wealthy Serbian businessmen and expats.
He was generally thought to be hiding in the Serb-dominated areas of Bosnia, sometimes disguised as an Orthodox priest and moving between monasteries and other hide-outs. He repeatedly eluded peacekeeping troops who staged numerous raids in Serb enclaves in eastern Bosnia.
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 he reportedly was about to embark on a vacation at a spa for 10 days when he was captured.
“For an older person, he had very many interests,” said Maja Djelic, 28, a Belgrade resident who also wrote for Healthy Life. “He said, when being introduced, ‘My name is Dr. Dabic, but call me David,’ ” she said, adding the two met in last November. She said he did not speak with a Bosnian accent and seemed like a valuable member of the small alternative-medicine community here, not someone who could have been the force behind the notorious war crimes.
“I still don’t believe it’s the same person,” she said.
Despite the apparent completeness of his disguise, it was not publicly known whether, as war-crimes prosecutors have often alleged, the Serbian government had long known Karadzic’s location and was only waiting for a convenient moment to apprehend him.
The arrest, nearly 13 years to the day after his indictment for the Srebrenica massacre, seemed aimed at strengthening Serbia’s ties to the European Union. A condition for membership remains the capture of Karadzic’s wartime ally, Gen. Ratko Mladic, who also is being sought for trial in The Hague on genocide charges.
A wartime friend of Karadzic’s who did not want to be named, to avoid the attention of prosecutors, said the change in Karadzic was so complete, “you could only recognize him if you know him by the sound of his voice.” Yet, in the end, it was not enough to keep Karadzic out of the grasp of authorities here.
The friend said he thought the arrest was the result of a tip-off, but also that recently Karadzic had “made a mistake in communication,” though he declined to elaborate further.
To become a new person, officials said, he used false documents and false identities. Last week, European Union peacekeepers, with support of local police, raided the Sarajevo apartment of Ljiljana Karadzic, the ex-politician’s wife. They seized documents and materials as clues for their search.
Rasim Ljajic, Serbia’s senior official in charge of cooperation with The Hague, said authorities were tracking the network of supporters and relatives who helped Karadzic hide and live. They pinpointed his whereabouts, and agents intercepted him on a bus as it traveled from his neighborhood in New Belgrade to another northern suburb, Batajnica. He was alone, Ljajic said.
He did not resist. He was blindfolded and taken away.
A judge concluded Tuesday that Karadzic should be transferred to the war-crimes tribunal in The Hague, although he now has three days in which to appeal the decision. Karadzic had been questioned but, so far, ministers said, he had remained silent.
Slew of charges
Karadzic, who was president of the Bosnian Serb administration during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, was indicted in July 1995 by an international war-crimes tribunal in the Srebrenia massacre. He also was charged with genocide, persecutions and other crimes for killings of non-Serbs by forces under his command during and after attacks on towns throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The charges state that his forces killed, tortured and raped some of the thousands of non-Serbs they funneled into camps set up by the Bosnian Serb authorities. In addition, he was charged with responsibility for the shelling and sniper-shootings of civilians in Sarajevo during the 43-month siege of the city in which thousands were killed or wounded, including many women and children.
The complexity of a case that encompasses most of the worst atrocities of the 1992-95 Bosnian war, likely legal wrangling and a packed docket at the court in The Hague all stand in the way of a speedy trial.
“Karadzic is the second most important defendant that we have had. 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 of Denmark told Danish TV2 News.
Compiled from The Washington Post, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Associated Press reports.