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Dr. David, war crimes case fugitive

Times Staff Writer

He grew a bushy white beard and called himself Doctor David. He peddled meditation and alternative healing, sold amulets on a website and made the rounds on the lecture circuit.

Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader regarded as one of the world’s most notorious fugitive war-crimes suspects, built a life on the lam that was public, if disguised, and seemingly unfettered by fears of detection.

The true identity of the bespectacled, white-haired man, who looked a bit the unkempt Santa Claus, was unknown to his landlords, neighbors, the man who designed his website and the editor of the magazine he wrote for.

Using the name Dragan David Dabic, Karadzic was practicing medicine in a private clinic, authorities said, and writing a column for Healthy Life, a small magazine that publishes every other month.

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“He happily, freely walked around the city,” Vladimir Vukcevic, Serbia’s war crimes prosecutor, said Tuesday.

After eluding capture for 13 years, Karadzic was arrested by Serbian security forces in the Belgrade suburb where he had made his home, snatched as he rode a public bus. One day after officials announced he was in custody, Karadzic awaited probable extradition to the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague.

The 63-year-old Karadzic has been indicted on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and other atrocities stemming from a campaign to repress Bosnian Muslims and other non-Serbs as Bosnia-Herzegovina attempted to break away from Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.

His alleged crimes include overseeing the 1995 massacre of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, the largest atrocity in post-World War II Europe. Men acting under his orders are believed to have set up detention camps where women were imprisoned and raped and men were beaten and starved.

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Karadzic and his wartime army commander, Gen. Ratko Mladic, were the last major Balkan war crimes suspects evading justice. Karadzic’s capture appears to have resulted from a shifting political will on the part of Belgrade’s new pro-Western government, which is eager to rehabilitate Serbia’s standing in Europe and the world.

“He’s proud of everything he’s done,” Karadzic’s lawyer, Svetozar Vujacic, told The Times after visiting his client in jail. “He allows that war crimes were committed, but he had nothing to do with that.”

Finding Karadzic, it seems, was not that difficult. He was hiding in plain sight.

Goran Kojic, who runs Healthy Life, said he was shocked to learn the truth.

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“At first I thought it was a joke,” he said of the moment he was told that Dabic was in fact Karadzic. “And then I realized it was serious when all these journalists started showing up at my door.”

Looking back, Kojic said, there were a couple of things that should have raised serious suspicions.

When Dabic presented himself as a doctor, a New Age psychiatrist, and submitted a four-part series on Christian Orthodox meditation, Kojic asked to see his diploma. Dabic claimed that his ex-wife had kept it and left the country.

Then Kojic typed “Dragan David Dabic” into an Internet search engine and nothing came up.

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He began publishing the series anyway, but told its author that instead of signing it as a doctor, he would have to sign it, “David Dabic, Spiritual Researcher.”

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 in his cramped office, noting the contrast between Dabic’s Bohemian appearance and Karadzic’s trademark bouffant hairdo and tailored business suits. “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 website, 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.

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For most of his years in hiding, Karadzic was sustained by donations from wealthy Serbian businessmen and expatriates. It was generally thought he was hiding in monasteries, caves or other remote locations in southern Serbia, Bosnia or his native Montenegro. There were as many rumored sightings as for Elvis, and four years ago he published a novel clandestinely.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops periodically swooped into his wartime village of Pale, near the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, in elaborate raids that netted nothing.

At least for the last couple of years, Karadzic was living in New Belgrade, a sprawling suburb of the Serbian capital full of anonymous high-rise apartment blocks, an easy place to lose oneself. He lived on a street named for a cosmonaut, near a building where fellow fugitive Mladic was known to have been residing at one point.

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 Bus No. 73 as it traveled from his neighborhood to another northern suburb, Batajnica. He was alone, Ljajic said, minus the entourage that had once accompanied the Bosnian Serb leader.

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He did not resist. He was blindfolded and taken away.

Ljajic said Karadzic was arrested Monday in an operation that lasted for several hours. Vujacic, Karadzic’s attorney, contended that his client was taken into custody Friday and held over the weekend before the news was announced.

More crucial to the arrest than police work or intelligence was the decision to go after Karadzic, after many years in which there was little official interest in stirring the anger that his seizure would unleash.

Serbia early this month installed a new, pro-Western government with Boris Tadic as president. Although Tadic was reelected as Serbia’s president in February, he now for the first time has an ally as prime minister -- Mirko Cvetkovic has replaced Vojislav Kostunica, a nationalist who refused to cooperate with The Hague.

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With the new government came changes in key security posts. Sasa Vukadinovic, a Tadic ally, took over as head of the secret service last week.

Arresting and turning over Karadzic is seen as a key step if Serbia is ever to be invited to join the European Union, a goal that most Serbs aspire to because of economic benefits and freer travel and commerce. The Netherlands and Belgium, especially, had pledged to block Serbia’s integration as long as Karadzic and Mladic remained loose.

Still, capturing Karadzic, regarded as a hero by many Serbian nationalists, is a risky move for Tadic. He will have to weather the outrage that is already boiling in some segments of Serbian society.

On Tuesday, young nationalists for the second day staged small but noisy demonstrations in downtown Belgrade. They briefly went on a window-shattering rampage, and police fired tear gas to disperse them.

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“Serbia will have to see some benefits,” said Obrad Kesic, a Serbian American analyst with Global Consultants. “If this goes unrecognized, it could have a bad effect on the stability of the government.”

Paddy Ashdown, who served as the European Union’s high representative for Bosnia from 2002 until 2006, joined numerous world leaders in praising the capture of Karadzic.

“The reality was that he was hidden by the Serbs and until the Serbs cooperated he couldn’t be caught, and I think it’s significant the Serbs have done what they should have done 13 years ago and delivered him up to justice,” Ashdown said.

“And it’s significant that he has been caught by the Serbs, because they can now begin to put the past behind them and move forward.”

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wilkinson@latimes.com

Special correspondent Zoran Cirjakovic contributed to this report.


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