The healer on the bus — Europe’s most wanted man

The old man on the 73 bus looked like a monk. His bushy white beard obscured half his face, thick spectacles covered the rest and his long white hair was tied in a top-knot at the back of his skull.

When the police officers got on the bus at a stop between Belgrade and the town of Batanica, they showed him their badges and the man who called himself Dragan Dabic, practitioner of alternative medicine, went with them without a struggle. With that quiet exchange Radovan Karadzic’s 12 years on the run came to an anticlimactic end.

”It all went smoothly. He didn’t resist,” said an officer involved in the capture.

Vladimir Vukcevic, Serbia’s chief war-crimes prosecutor, said: ”The security was really minimal and no incidents happened. We waited for him to go from place A to place B to see whether he actually has anyone around him because we did not want any victims or shootings or incidents.”

Vukcevic said the arrest took place on Monday. But Karadzic’s lawyer, Sveta Vujacic, said it took place earlier and that his client was held incommunicado for three days before the announcement was made. ”I’m 100% sure that [Karadzic] was arrested on July 18 at half past nine in the evening,” he told Channel Four News.

Vujacic said his client had got off the bus, believing the police officers to be ticket inspectors, only to find himself blindfolded and driven away.

”When they took off the blindfold, he realised he was in a small room, with only a table and chair,” he said. ”Those people, who were very fair, asked him if he wanted to talk to them. He refused to talk and asked where he was … Was it the police, in court, where? They replied: ‘It’s not important.”’

Hiding in plain sight
Whenever the arrest took place, it soon became apparent that the man charged with Europe’s worst crimes against humanity since the Holocaust had been hiding in plain sight, preaching about New Age medicine and selling lucky charms on the internet.

The florid, burly figure had shrunk with age. His eyes had receded behind his sprawling facial hair until all that was left of the old Karadzic was the hooked nose and the bushy eyebrows.

”I know the guy well. I interviewed him many times in the past, and I could have stumbled on him in the street and not noticed him,” said Alexander Vasovic, a Belgrade journalist who covered the Bosnian war.

Rasim Ljajic, the Serbian official responsible for liaison with the Hague war-crimes tribunal, said: ”He was very persuasive in hiding his identity and supposedly his job was alternative medicines. He worked for a private company, a private GP and he said that he was residing in New Belgrade.”

New Belgrade is a near-perfect place for any fugitive to burrow away. Built in communist times, it is a warren of concrete tower blocks, now discoloured and weeping, and separated by wide featureless boulevards, as anonymous as any place on Earth.

At some point in the past few years, it is clear that life became too anonymous for Karadzic to bear. The former Bosnian Serb leader had always been a showman, a dapper dresser with bouffant hair, an amateur poet who loved to read his work aloud at literary salons in pre-war Sarajevo.

Seeking an audience
In his life as Dragan David Dabic, he began to seek a new audience for his musings on alternative medicine. He built on his training as a psychiatrist and embellished it with Oriental-inspired theories of ”the life force”, ”vital energies” and ”personal auras”. He told people his plaited top-knot drew in different energies from the environment.

As Dabic, he set up a website called Psy Help Energy that advertised the David Wellbeing Programme, which offered help from ”experienced experts from pioneering areas of science where there are immense possibilities for interaction with natural forces in and around us”.

Among other services offered were acupuncture, homeopathy, ”quantum medicine” and traditional cures. He also sold necklaces he called Velbing (well-being): lucky charms, which he claimed offered health benefits; and ”personal protection” against ”harmful radiation”. The website provided no address, and the two numbers it listed were prepaid mobile numbers, now no longer functioning.

As Dabic he also began to pester Goran Kojic, the editor of Healthy Living magazine, asking to write and lecture on his work. He craved a public.

”Here was this strange-looking man. He said he was freelancing for a number of private clinics and he wanted to publish,” Kojic said. ”He said, ‘I have a diploma but I don’t have it with me. My ex-wife has it in the United States.’ I said I can’t publish you as a psychiatrist without a diploma, but I will take you on as a ‘spiritual researcher’.”

So Dabic published his thoughts on holistic care in Healthy Living and began to appear at panel discussions on alternative medicine. Videos of these occasions show a soft-spoken pensioner sitting the way Karadzic the warlord used to sit with his feet pointing inwards and balancing on the outside edge of his soles.

In October he gave a lecture comparing the silent contemplation of Orthodox monks to Oriental forms of meditation. Then, as recently as May 23, Healthy Living‘s third annual festival in Belgrade advertised a presentation by David Dabic on ”nurturing your inner energies”.

No protection
The homespun nature of Karadzic’s disguise, relying on a big beard rather than plastic surgery, suggests that he was not under the protection of a friendly intelligence service, as many had speculated.

Ljajic said his men had actually been pursuing Karadzic’s former military commander and co-accused, Ratko Mladic, but the people they believed were helping Mladic led them instead to Karadzic.

Such basic police work could have been performed long ago, but it is only recently that there has been the political will in Belgrade to pursue the war criminals wholeheartedly. Behind the scenes, the new government, after a fortnight in office, is said to have launched a purge of the security services, which were long suspected of protecting war-crimes suspects.

Only last weekend Sasa Vukadinovic, a respected career investigator with a pedigree in smashing prominent Belgrade mafia structures, was appointed the new head of the security service, replacing Rade Bulatovic who was close to the former nationalist prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica.

A Western investigator with long involvement in Balkan manhunts told the Guardian in the United Kingdom that only a few months ago, it was not known where Karadzic was. The investigator also ascribed Monday’s events to the formation of a new government.

But given that the government has only been in office for a fortnight and the new security chief only a few days, others believe the breakthrough must have been due to Kostunica officials jumping ship.

Back story
The succession of ferocious ethnic conflicts that tore apart the former Yugoslavia was triggered by the secession of Slovenia in June 1991. The break-up of the socialist republic revived historic enmities between its constituent nations, setting Serbs, for the most part, against Croats, Bosnians and Albanians.

Karadzic became president of a breakaway separatist ethnic Serb state in Bosnia backed by the rump of the Yugoslav national army.

A United States-brokered peace eventually united Croat and Bosnian forces in 1994, turning the tide of the conflict. Nato bombing finally forced the Serbs to the negotiating table. The Dayton Agreement in December 1995 ended the war in Bosnia and established a semi-autonomous Republika Srpska.

The second sequence of wars saw Albanian ethnic minorities in Kosovo, Macedonia and southern Serbia attempt to assert their independence. At least 140 000 people were killed — some estimates claim 300 000 — and more than a million left homeless in the 10 years of conflict.

The United Nations indictment, last amended in 2000, accuses Karadzic of the following crimes between 1992 and 1996:

  • One charge of genocide (Srebrenica and elsewhere in Bosnia)
  • One of complicity in genocide (Srebrenica and elsewhere in Bosnia)
  • One of extermination, a crime against humanity
  • One of murder as a crime against humanity
  • One of murder as a violation of the laws or customs of war
  • One of wilful killing as a grave breach of the Geneva conventions governing wartime conduct
  • One of persecution
  • Two acts of deportations and other inhumane acts
  • One of inflicting terror upon civilians
  • One of taking hostages


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Julian Borger
Julian Borger
Julian Borger is a British journalist and non-fiction writer. He is the world affairs editor at The Guardian. He was a correspondent in the US, eastern Europe, the Middle East and the Balkans and covered the Bosnian War for the BBC. Borger is a contributor to Center of International Cooperation.

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