BELGRADE, Serbia — For more than a decade, the world's most-wanted war crimes fugitive displayed a talent for eluding international justice. His secret? Hide in plain sight.
In a ruse worthy of any thriller, Radovan Karadzic transformed himself from a leader instantly recognizable by his famous shock of salt-and-pepper hair into a man resembling a New Age mystic, with a flowing white beard and black robe.
Believed to be protected by a coterie of ultra-nationalists, the former Bosnian Serb strongman — a doctor and psychiatrist who received training in the United States — worked at an alternative medicine clinic in Belgrade.
His disguise was so effective that prosecutors say he walked freely around town without being noticed and even his landlords didn't know his true identity.
A photograph displayed by prosecutors at a news conference Tuesday showed a gaunt elderly man unrecognizable as the robust warlord who strutted brashly before his troops during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.
That life on the run ended abruptly with capture of Karadzic (pronounced KA-ra-jich) on Monday — an arrest made possible by the election of a new pro-Western government that tightened the dragnet around the war crimes suspect.
The U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, accuses the psychiatrist-turned-Serbian-nationalist of masterminding the deadly wartime siege of Sarajevo and the 1995 executions of some 8,000 Muslim boys and men in Srebrenica, Europe's worst carnage since the end of World War II. He was indicted in 1995 and went into hiding a year or so later.
Many observers have long suspected that recently fallen Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, a nationalist with close ties to Karadzic during the Bosnian war, had shielded him from arrest.
The fugitive had been masquerading as an expert in "human quantum energy" using the fake name "D.D. David" printed on his business card. The initials apparently stood for Dragan Dabic, an alias authorities said he used.
He even had his own Web site — www.psy-help-energy.com — and gave lectures before hundreds of people on alternative medicine. The site displays pictures of metallic bullet-shaped amulets and Orthodox crosses with wires running out of them.
TV footage provided by a local station to Associated Press Television News shows Karadzic sitting on a panel at a medical conference, glancing nervously at the cameraman next to him.
Using his alias, Karadzic was a regular contributor to the Serbian alternative medicine magazine Healthy Life. Its editor, Goran Kojic, said he was stunned when he saw the photo of Karadzic on TV and realized the bizarre truth.
"It never even occurred to me that this man with a long white beard and hair was Karadzic," said Kojic. "He was eloquent and a bit strange, like a true bohemian."
"For an older person, he had very many interests," said Maja Djelic, 28, a Belgrade resident who also wrote for Healthy Life. She said she and Karadzic met for coffee and conversations, about acupuncture and the Internet, at a cafe called Biblioteka in downtown Belgrade. Karadzic, she recalled, was very interested in improving his Web site.
"He was really friendly and really open and had a way of speaking with people," she said.
Few in Serbia failed to link the capture to the recent establishment of a largely pro-Western government committed to bringing Serbia into the European Union, which has been demanding the handover of war criminals. The United States had set a $5-million bounty for Karadzic's arrest.
Serbian security services said they found Karadzic on Monday while looking for another top war crimes suspect facing genocide charges, Bosnian Serb wartime commander Gen. Ratko Mladic. The connection — why the search for one led to the other — was not explained.
Prosecutors said Karadzic was arrested while waiting for a bus in a grim part of Belgrade known as a nationalist stronghold. Authorities refused to reveal more details.
Karadzic's lawyer, Sveta Vujcic, said his client was arrested Friday, not on Monday as authorities say.
A judge ordered Karadzic's transfer to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague to face genocide charges, war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic said. Karadzic has three days to appeal the ruling.
Information from the New York Times was used in this report.