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.

Kyodo News/AP
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.

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

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.

With a little help from friends

Venezuelan terrorist Illich Ramírez Sánchez, better known as Carlos the Jackal, took up residence in Khartoum as a guest of the Sudanese government. Mr. Sanchez had carried out a number of attacks on behalf of the Palestinian people, and was thought to have converted to Islam, so Sudanese President Hassan al-Turabi was reluctant to hand him over when asked to do so by the French government.

But when French agents showed Mr. Turabi videos of Sanchez drinking and partying with multiple women, Turabi gave Sanchez the boot

Turabi said:

"We welcomed him as a combatant, someone who fought for the Palestinian cause, for noble causes. Now he's a hoodlum, his behaviour is shameful. He drinks and goes out with women so much that I don't know if he's a Moslem. Given that his presence has become a real danger we are going to hand him over. We have no regrets. Because of his behaviour, we are absolved from blame."

Last December, a French court sentenced Sanchez to life in prison for his bomb attacks that killed 11 people in the 1970s.

And then there is the Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda. Wanted by for charges of murder, torture, and other human rights violations, Gen. Ntaganda lived a comfortable life in the eastern Congolese city of Goma, often dining at fancy restaurants also patronized by the same United Nations peacekeepers who were required by international law to arrest him on behalf of the International Criminal Court at the Hague.

The problem was that Ntaganda was not only the leader of a murderous militia; he was also a serving general in the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo, under an amnesty deal organized by the Congolese government. As long as Ntaganda served the interests of the Congolese government, Congo would not cooperate with his arrest and extradition.

That ethical gray area was clarified a few weeks ago, however, when Ntaganda issued a memorandum, calling for all able-bodied soldiers of the Tutsi ethnicity to join him in open rebellion against the Congolese government. Ntaganda has since fled with his troops into the Virunga National Forest north of Goma, pursued by Congolese troops and UN peacekeepers. Now, he is no longer hiding in plain sight.

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