BELGRADE, Serbia — The man, hobbled by pain, couldn't coax himself to sleep. He got out of bed just before dawn, pulled on a blue baseball cap and headed for a walk in the garden. Maybe some fresh air would clear his head.
At the same time, four jeeps carrying about 20 masked men in black fatigues rolled quietly into the remote northern Serbian village of Lazarevo, hoping to surprise a quarry that had eluded them for 16 years. They pulled up to four houses simultaneously — all owned by relatives of one of the world's most wanted men.
As the frail man moved toward the door, four of the men jumped over a fence and burst in, grabbing the old man and pushing him roughly to the floor.
"Identify yourself!" one shouted.
The old man managed a whisper: "I'm Ratko Mladic."
An excruciating manhunt had ended quietly as the sun rose over the Serbian fields.
The account, provided to the Associated Press by three Serbian police officials on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information, was the most detailed to date of the operation that captured the man allegedly responsible for Europe's worst massacre since World War II.
Mladic, officials said, moved to the largely Bosnian Serb village of Lazarevo about two years ago, figuring he could be safe with his relatives. There, he lived an anonymous, low-key lifestyle, forgoing fancy restaurants and drinking clubs and staying well out of the public eye.
His disappearance was aided by his changed appearance as he aged and his health deteriorated. The man who appeared in court Friday bore little resemblance to the robust, uniformed figure strutting in front of the cameras during the Bosnian war.
Mladic was taken to court on Thursday and Friday, when a judge ruled he was fit enough to be extradited for trial in The Hague in the Netherlands, where the U.N. war crimes tribunal has been waiting for him since 1995.
Police said they had no tip that Mladic was hiding out in Lazarevo, and no specific information about the house where he was found, other than it was owned by a relative. The officers, who have been searching for Mladic across Serbia for years, had never been to Lazarevo.
"Good work," Mladic told the officers, according to Serbian police Chief Ivica Dacic. "You found the one you were looking for."