Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, accused architect of war crimes including Europe's worst massacre since World War II, was arrested after more than a decade on the run, the country's president and the U.N. tribunal for the former Yugoslavia said.
Charged with organizing the deadly siege of Sarajevo and the 1995 massacre of up to 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica, Karadzic topped the tribunal's most-wanted list for more than a decade.
The tribunal described him as the suspected mastermind of "scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history." Prosecutors suspected he eluded the manhunt with the help of Bosnian Serb nationalists and a string of elaborate disguises.
"This is a very important day for the victims who have waited for this arrest for over a decade," the tribunal's head prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, said. "It clearly demonstrates that nobody is beyond the reach of the law and that sooner or later all fugitives will be brought to justice."
Serbian President Boris Tadic's office said Karadzic, 63, was arrested Monday evening "in an action by the Serbian security services" and taken before the investigative judge of Serbia's war crimes court, indicating imminent extradition to the U.N. war crimes court in The Hague, Netherlands.
A Serbian police source, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak to the media, said Karadzic was arrested in a Belgrade suburb after a tip from a foreign intelligence service and weeks of surveillance of his safe house.
Sveta Vujacic, Karadzic's lawyer, said the fugitive had been arrested on a public bus around 9:30 a.m. on Friday and held until he was brought to the court Monday.
"He just said that these people showed him a police badge and than he was taken to some place and kept in the room. And that is absolutely against the law what they did," Vujacic told AP Television News. "The judge also said that he will look into this matter, who and why kept him for three days."
Investigative judge Milan Dilparic said early Tuesday that that he had questioned Karadzic - the first step in an process that includes presenting him with the indictment and allowing three days for him to appeal any decision to hand him to the Hague court.
Heavily armed special forces of the Serbian Gendarmerie were deployed around the war-crimes court in Belgrade _ apparently fearing a backlash from nationalists who consider Karadzic their war hero.
"He did not surrender, that is not his style," his brother Luka Karadzic said outside the court.
Dozens of Karadzic supporters gathered near the building chanting "Karadzic Hero!" and "Tadic Traitor!" Several were arrested after attacking reporters in front of the courthouse.
Other officers took up positions throughout central Belgrade and in front of the U.S. embassy, which was targeted in nationalist rioting over Kosovo's declaration of independence in February.
In the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo - besieged throughout the war by Bosnian Serb nationalists - streets were jammed late Monday as Bosnian Muslims celebrated the arrest.
Operating from strongholds in Pale and Vraca high above the city, the Serbs starved, sniped and bombarded the center of Sarajevo, controlling nearly all roads into and out. Inhabitants were kept alive only by a thin lifeline of food aid and supplies provided by UN donors and peacekeepers, and risked their lives merely walking down the street, shopping in a market or driving on one of the main roads, which became known as "Sniper Alley."
The siege, which began in April 1992, was not officially lifted until February 1996, after NATO intervention and the implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords. During that time, an estimated 10,000 people had died in and around the city.
The international tribunal indicted Karadzic on genocide charges in 1995. The psychiatrist and self-styled poet turned hard-line Serbian nationalist still wielded power among Bosnian Serbs from the shadows and occasionally appeared in public before he went on the run in 1998.
Serbia has been under heavy pressure from the European Union to turn over suspects but Karadzic's arrest came as a surprise to many. His whereabouts had been a mystery to U.N. prosecutors, unlike those of his wartime military commander, Gen. Ratko Mladic, who had last been spotted living in Belgrade in 2005 and remains at large.
However, nationalists lost power in Serbia when a new pro-Western government took over last month and removed the nationalist official who held the office of secret police chief, the official formally in charge of arresting war crimes suspects.
"It is clear that those changes led to Karadzic's arrest," prominent Serbian human rights activist Natasa Kandic said.
Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. diplomat who brokered the Dayton deal ending the war, said Karadzic was responsible for the deaths of 300,000 people and his arrest marked "a historic day."
"A man who has been on the run for 12 years, who NATO should have captured, has been captured and by the Serb government themselves," Holbrooke told CNN. "This guy was a kind of a Robin Hood to the Bosnian Serbs, evading capture for 12 years, fomenting dissent. His removal from the scene will help enormously to create stability."
On July 11, tens of thousands of people commemorated the 13th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, which saw Serb troops led by Mladic overrun an enclave supposedly protected by outnumbered U.N. troops. Mladic's troops rounded up the entire population and took the men away for execution.
"There is no better tribute to the victims of the war's atrocities than bringing their perpetrators to justice," the White House said.
Munira Subasic, a mother who lost two sons in the Srebrenica massacre, was overcome with emotion as she watched the news on television.
"After 13 years, we finally reached the moment of truth," she told AP Television News. If Karadzic is extradited to the tribunal in The Hague, he would be the 44th Serb suspect sent there. The others include former President Slobodan Milosevic, who was ousted in 2000 and died in 2006 while on trial on war crimes charges.
A statement from the EU presidency, currently held by France, called the arrest "an important step on the path to the rapprochement of Serbia with the European Union."
"The new government in Belgrade stands for a new Serbia, for a new quality of relations with the EU," EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana said.
Born in Savnik, Yugoslavia, in what is now the Republic of Montenegro, Karadzic became a founding member of the Serbian Democratic Party in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1990. Two years later, he was elected president of the three-person presidency of the Serbian republic in Bosnia, which had just been freshly recognized as an independent state by the United Nations.
He became sole president of the Serb Republic in Bosnia that year, remaining in that position until 1996 and also serving as supreme commander of the armed forces.
As leader of Bosnia's Serbs, Karadzic hobnobbed with international negotiators and his interviews were top news items during the 3Ѕ-year Bosnian war, set off when a government dominated by Slavic Muslims and Croats declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1992.
His indictment alleges that he, acting together with others, committed the crimes to secure control of areas of Bosnia which had been proclaimed part of the "Serbian Republic" and significantly reducing its non-Serb population.
His life changed by the time the war ended in late 1995 with an estimated 250,000 people dead and another 1.8 million driven from their homes. He was indicted twice by the U.N. tribunal on genocide charges stemming from his alleged crimes against Bosnia's Muslims and Croats.
Karadzic's reported hide-outs 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. Others said he wore women's wigs.
His wife, Ljiljana, told The Associated Press by phone from her home in Karadzic's former stronghold, Pale, near Sarajevo that her daughter Sonja had called her before midnight.
"As the phone rang, I knew something was wrong. I'm shocked. Confused. At least now, we know he is alive," Ljiljana Karadzic said, declining further comment.
Under the U.N. indictment, last amended in May 2000, the U.N. war crimes tribunal charged Karadzic with 15 counts of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and other atrocities committed between 1992 to 1996.
It would almost certainly take many months for Karadzic to stand trial due to the complexity of his case, expected legal wrangling and a packed docket.
In the past, the court has sometimes released suspects under strict conditions to await trial in their home country. However there is virtually no chance that will happen in Karadzic's case.
Americans have reproached Russian President Vladimir Putin for deliberately picking a pretty translator for his meeting with then-President of the United States Donald Trump