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War crimes fugitive Mladic arrested in Serbia

May 26, 2011 12:19:20 AM PDT
Ratko Mladic, the ruthless Bosnian Serb military leader charged with orchestrating Europe's worst massacre of civilians since World War II, was arrested at a relative's home in a tiny Serbian village on Thursday.

His arrest ends a 16-year hunt for the architect of what a war-crimes judge called "scenes from hell."

"We have ended a difficult period of our history and removed the stain from the face of Serbia and the members of our nation wherever they live," President Boris Tadic said in a triumphant press conference announcing the arrest.

Notable details

  • Mladic had two pistols when he was arrested but offered no resistance, and he appeared shrunken, bald and pale, Serbian officials and media said.
  • Serbia has begun the process of extraditing the former general to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.
  • Mladic, 69, faces life imprisonment if tried and convicted of genocide and other charges. The U.N. court has no death penalty.
  • Serbia raised its national security level and banned all gatherings after nationalist groups pledged to pour into the streets in protest.

A bullnecked field commander with narrow, piercing blue eyes, Mladic seized the town and was seen handing candy to Muslim children in the town's square. He assured them everything would be fine and patted one boy on the head. Hours later, his men began days of killing, rape and torture.

War crimes tribunal judge Fouad Riad said during Mladic's 1995 indictment in absentia that the court had seen evidence of "unimaginable savagery: thousands of men executed and buried in mass graves, hundreds of men buried alive, men and women mutilated and slaughtered, children killed before their mothers' eyes, a grandfather forced to eat the liver of his own grandson."

"These are truly scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history," he said.

But even as Balkan war-crimes fugitives such as Radovan Karadzic and Slobodan Milosevic were brought to The Hague, Mladic was idolized and sheltered by ultranationalists and ordinary Serbs despite a 10 million euro ($14 million) Serbian government bounty, plus $5 million offered by the U.S. State Department.

He was known to have made daring forays into Belgrade to watch soccer games and feast on fish at an elite restaurant.

In a particularly brazen touch, he had been using the alias Milorad Komadic, an anagram of his true identity, police said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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