BELGRADE, Serbia Former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic, accused architect of massacres and the politician considered most responsible for the deadly siege of Sarajevo, was arrested Monday evening in a Serbian police raid ending his 13 years as the world's most-wanted war crimes fugitive.
His alleged partner in the persecution and "cleansing" of tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats, former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic, remained at large.
A psychiatrist turned diehard Serbian nationalist politician, Karadzic is the suspected mastermind of mass killings that the U.N. war crimes tribunal described as "scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history." They include the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica, Europe's worst slaughter since World War II.
"This is a very important day for the victims who have waited for this arrest for over a decade. It is also an important day for international justice because it clearly demonstrates that nobody is beyond the reach of the law," said Serge Brammertz, the tribunal's head prosecutor.
A Serbian police source said Karadzic was arrested in a Belgrade suburb after weeks of surveillance of his safe house and a tip from a foreign intelligence service.
Serbian President Boris Tadic's office said Karadzic has been taken before the investigative judge of Serbia's war crimes court, a legal procedure that indicates he could soon be extradited to the U.N. court at The Hague, Netherlands. Investigative Judge Milan Dilparic said early Tuesday that Karadzic was "being questioned."
However, it was unclear whether Belgrade planned to extradite him to The Hague for trial by the U.N. tribunal, or attempt to try him in Serbia. Many Serbs consider the tribunal to be biased against them, but Serbia would gain international favor by handing Karadzic over to the U.N. court.
If Karadzic is transferred, he would be the 44th Serb suspect extradited to the tribunal. The others include former President Slobodan Milosevic, who was ousted in 2000 and died in 2006 while on trial on war crimes charges.f+u
Serbia braced for a possible reaction from ultra-nationalists who are believed to have helped shelter Karadzic and Mladic over the years.
Heavily armed special forces were deployed around the war-crimes court in Belgrade as dozens of Karadzic supporters gathered nearby. Several were arrested after attacking reporters in front of the courthouse. Karadzic's brother, Luka, was also seen arriving at the location in central Belgrade.
Serbian police also deployed throughout central Belgrade as well as in front of the U.S. Embassy, which was targeted in nationalist rioting over Kosovo's declaration of independence in February.
The White House called the arrest "an important demonstration of the Serbian government's determination to honor its commitment to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal."
In the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo a focus of Bosnian Serb attacks during the war streets were jammed late Monday as Bosnian Muslims celebrated the arrest.
Srebrenica was one of the final chapters of the 1992-95 Bosnian war, which had broken out when ethnic Serbs revolted against a government dominated by Muslims and Croats that declared the republic independent from the disintegrating Serb-dominated Yugoslav foundation. Slovenia and Croatia already had broken away, the latter in another bloody ethnic conflict.
Serbia has been under increasing international pressure to find Karadzic and turn him over.
Still, his arrest came as a surprise to many. His whereabouts had been a mystery to U.N. war crimes prosecutors unlike those of Mladic, who had last been spotted living in Belgrade in 2005 and remains at large.
"He was at large because the Yugoslav army was protecting him. But this guy in my view was worse than Milosevic," Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador who negotiated an end to the Bosnian War, told CNN. "He was the intellectual leader."
Holbrooke calculated the Karadzic is responsible, directly or indirectly, for the deaths of 300,000 people, because without him there would have been no war or genocide.
The charges against him, last amended in May 2000, include genocide, extermination, murder, deportation, inhumane acts, and other crimes committed against Bosnian Muslim, Bosnian Croat and other non-Serb civilians in Bosnia during the 1992-1995 war.
"These offenses include a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing directed at non-Serbs, organized attacks on places of worship, the operation of concentration camps, and the mass murder of thousands of Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat civilians," the White House statement added.
As leader of Bosnia's Serbs, Karadzic hobnobbed with international negotiators and his interviews were top news items during the 3 1/2-year Bosnian war, set off when a government dominated by Slavic Muslims and Croats declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1992.
But 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.
The fugitive's 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.
The European Union said the arrest "illustrates the commitment of the new Belgrade government to contributing to peace and stability in the Balkans region."
A statement from the EU presidency, currently held by France, said the arrest was "an important step on the path to the rapprochement of Serbia with the European Union."
On Saturday, Serb authorities turned over an ex-Bosnian Serb police chief, Stojan Zupljanin, who was arrested in the town of Pancevo last week after nine years on the run. A Belgrade court on Friday rejected his appeal against extradition and Zupljanin pleaded innocent Monday to 12 charges of murder, torture and persecution of Bosnian Muslims and Croats in 1992.
Zupljanin was charged with war crimes for allegedly overseeing Serb-run prison camps where thousands of Muslims and Croats were killed during the 1992-95 war in Bosnia.