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Japan nerve gas fugitive: hiding in plain sight

For many international fugitives, from Serbian General Ratko Mladic and Carlos the Jackal to Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda, the place to hide is in an open, urban setting.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / June 15, 2012

Katsuya Takahashi (c.), a former Aum Shinrikyo cult member, is driven to Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department after being arrested, in Tokyo on Friday, June 15, 2012.

Kyodo News/AP

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It is a time-tested fact for police: Many criminals hide in plain sight.

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This week, Katsuya Takahashi, the last of the fugitive suspects in the Aum Shinrikiyo religious cult sarin-gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, was arrested in Tokyo after spending much of his time living in the city of Kawasaki, just south of Toyko. He had changed his name and taken a job as a construction worker.

Mr. Takahashi had been quite clear that he wanted to stay away from Tokyo itself, where there were too many cops. But he also wanted to stay away from villages, where he would stand out as an outsider. Better to blend into the anonymous city.

“I don't want to take any chances of being caught. We should mix in with urban crowds, rather than living in a rural area," Takahashi told fellow fugitive Naoko Kikuchi, according to a piece by Monitor correspondent Tom A. Peter. “But we should avoid Tokyo, as there are too many police officers and security cameras.” Japanese police arrested Ms. Kikuchi just two weeks before tracking down Takahashi.

While some international fugitives hide out in dark mansions (Osama bin Laden), dense tropical forests (Joseph Kony, the Ugandan militia leader), or dusty holes (Saddam Hussein and, briefly, Muammar Qaddafi), many find that their greatest protection is in the company of strangers. Big cities, with their large volumes of pedestrians and apartment dwellers, lend themselves to criminals who are able to alter their appearance and get a job.

That is what Ratko Mladic did, during his 11 years on the run following the fall of his protector, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. For much of the time he was fleeing decade-old charges of organizing the war and slaughter of Bosnian Muslims in the Bosnian civil war, he resided in his home village of Lazarevo, close to his ailing mother, under the name of Milorad Komadic (an anagram of Ratko Mladic.) To locate him, Serbian police had to bust into his mother’s house as she lay dying, and later found him, pale, thin, and bald, in the house of a relative. Even so, there are signs that Mr. Mladic did venture out, taking frequent trips to Belgrade and even attending birthday parties.

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