Nato troops mounted a dramatic early-morning raid yesterday to snatch the highest-ranking genocide suspect detained to date, upping the pressure on fugitives accused of war crimes in Bosnia.
Momcilo Krajisnik, an aide to the former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, was seized by French troops, who used explosives to force open a door to his home in Pale, 10 miles south-east of Sarajevo.
Mr Krajisnik was led away bare-footed in his pyjamas and was later flown to The Hague, where war crimes suspects are held before appearing in front of the UN tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
"If they had only rung the bell, I would have opened the door - but they threw a bomb," said Mr Krajisnik's 80-year-old father, Sretko.
Mr Krajisnik's sons, Milos and Njegos, said that they were tied up and their grandparents were locked in the kitchen as their father was taken away. The operation, said to involve a dozen Nato troops, lasted for about 10 minutes.
Defence sources dismissed suggestions that British soldiers had been involved.
Lord Robertson, Nato's Secretary General, said that Mr Krajisnik stands accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, violations of the laws and customs of war and grave breaches of the Geneva conventions, including murder, wilful killing and extermination.
"This arrest - the sixth since I became secretary general - represents the capture by [the international peace-keepers] S-For of the highest-ranking person indicted for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia thus far," he said.
The operation increased the pressure on the architects of the Bosnian war, but did not represent a dramatic escalation of S-For's activities.
"This is a steady upping of the momentum," said a Nato spokesman. "Each month we are turning the screw".
The arrest may have been prompted by criticisms that France has not been at the forefront of detaining indicted war criminals. The operation was relatively straightforward, since Mr Krajisnik's indictment had been "sealed", rather than public, his whereabouts were public knowledge and he was not guarded. Mr Krajisnik may have thought himself safe, as he was not part of the official chain of command when atrocities were being committed against Bosnian Muslims.
But his arrest fits with the strategy of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which has sought to switch the focus of its activities towards those who ordered and orchestrated atrocities, rather than those who carried them out.
Since the tribunal's inception, 94 indictments have been issued although seven of the the accused have died and charges against 18 have been dropped. The court is hearing cases against 38 accused war criminals and 28 publicly-accused are at large.
Of the top echelon of leaders, Mr Karadzic is the most vulnerable, because he is within S-For's reach. But any attempt to arrest him would be dangerous, as he is known to be under heavy armed guard.
Ratko Mladic, a senior military commander, is in Belgrade, being sheltered by Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav President, who is charged with orchestrating ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.
Mr Krajisnik, 54, was an executive of the largest company in Bosnia, Energoinvest, which made parts for Russian nuclear reactors.
His association with Mr Karadzic dates back at least 20 years.
But it was in his political capacity that Krajisnik, a signatory to the Dayton accords, will stand trial. He became speaker of the Bosnian parliament in 1990 and after the war ended in 1995, was the Serb representative on the three-member Bosnian presidency, along with a Croat and a Muslim.
Mirko Banjac, an official of Mr Krajisnik's Serb Democratic Party, expressed his concern at yesterday's arrest and demanded an explanation.
Yugoslavia's Foreign Ministry condemned the arrest.
"This act clearly shows that Nato continues its policy of genocide against the Serb people," it was quoted as saying by the state news agency, Tanjug.