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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 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.

Before sunrise, agents of Serbia’s domestic intelligence agency moved quietly on Mladic’s hideout, a single-story yellow brick house owned by a relative of the fugitive’s mother, said Radmilo Stanisic, the de facto mayor of Lazarevo, a village of some 2,000 residents about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northeast of Belgrade.

“They didn’t even wake us up,” said a resident who identified himself only as Zoran. “I’m furious. They arrested our hero.”

A sign reading “Mladic Hero” was posted on the entrance of the village as police vehicles guarded the house where Mladic was arrested.

Rasim Ljajic, a government minister in charge of cooperation with the U.N. tribunal, said “Mladic looked like an old man” when he was arrested.

“One could pass by him without recognizing him,” Ljajic said.

“He was pale, which could mean he rarely ventured out of the house — a probable reason why he went unnoticed,” he said.

Ljajic said said Mladic had two handguns in his possession, but did not resist the arrest and “was cooperative.”

“He spoke normally to the members of the security services,” Ljajic said.

Belgrade B-92 radio said one of Mladic’s arms was paralyzed — probably the result of a stroke.

Serbian state TV said Mladic appeared “worn out.” Ljajic said Mladic “had several layers of clothing and a woolen pullover on top” them when arrested — indicating he felt cold even in summer-like temperatures.

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