PALE, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- NATO troops raided a church and rectory in search of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic yesterday but did not find the world's most-wanted war crimes suspect.
A priest who is known to be a Karadzic supporter was wounded in the raid, as was his son. The two were in critical condition with multiple fractures and head wounds, said Amra Odobasic, a spokeswoman for the Tuzla Clinical Center.
Outraged at the action, about 3,000 people protested outside the church, carrying banners reading, "Nobody will arrest a Serb." They lit candles and prayed for the two men. Many wrapped themselves in Serbia's flag.
Canadian Captain Dave Sullivan, a spokesman for NATO-led peacekeepers in Bosnia, said the two -- identified as Jeremija Starovlah, 52, and his son Aleksandar, 28 -- were wounded by small explosives used for opening doors during raids.
Starovlah told a newspaper last week that it was the duty of every Serb cleric to help Karadzic evade arrest and prosecution before the United Nations war crimes tribunal.
Sullivan confirmed that the predawn sweep was an attempt to capture Karadzic, indicted by the UN tribunal in The Hague on suspicion of war crimes. Pale was Karadzic's headquarters during the Bosnian war, Europe's worst bloodshed since World War II.
"This operation forms part of a sustained campaign against persons indicted for war crimes," Sullivan said. "They can run, but they can't hide."
In the raid, British peacekeepers backed by local police sealed off the area surrounding the church and rectory, and bursts of machine-gun fire were heard along with an explosion. The raid shattered windows and left a hole at the entrance of the church.
In Washington, State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli expressed regret over the injuries to civilians.
But he said the NATO was "put in the position of having to use force to try to apprehend Karadzic" because Karadzic has not surrendered to the UN tribunal and Serbs have not taken steps to bring him to justice.
Karadzic is thought to be on the run inside the Bosnian Serb half of Bosnia.