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.
Serbian President Boris Tadic's office said Karadzic, 63, was arrested "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 talk to the media, said Karadzic was seized in a Belgrade suburb after weeks of surveillance of his safe house and a tip from a foreign intelligence service.
Authorities said Karadzic was detained Monday evening in a raid, but his attorney said it occurred Friday on a bus. "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," Sveta Vujacic told AP Television News.
If Karadzic is transferred to the U.N. tribunal, 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.
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 — 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.
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.
"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.
Karadzic was born to a poor rural family in Montenegro. He trained as a psychiatrist and moved to Sarajevo with his wife and two children in the 1960s.
A flamboyant gambler and sometime poet, Karadzic became a founding member of the Serbian Democratic Party in Bosnia in 1990. Two years later, he was elected president of the three-person presidency of the breakaway Serbian republic in Bosnia, soon after Bosnia was 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.
Karadzic hobnobbed with international negotiators and his interviews were top news items during the 3½-year Bosnian war. But his life changed by the time the war ended in late 1995 with tens of thousands of 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, 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."