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Dr. David, war crimes case fugitive

Radovan Karadzic was living a secret life in public near Belgrade as a New Age healer when he was arrested.

July 23, 2008|Tracy Wilkinson | Times Staff Writer

BELGRADE, SERBIA — 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.

"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.

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.

"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.

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.

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.

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