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Tracking the Violent Life of Milosevic's 'Tiger'

In an upscale hotel lobby in 2000, decades of petty crime, violence and state-sponsored murders finally caught up with Zeljko Raznatovic.

Raznatovic, better known as "Arkan," died in a storm of submachine-gun fire while drinking with friends and bodyguards in Belgrade's Intercontinental Hotel. The assassination ended the life of a warlord who became one of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's most valued henchmen in the country's civil war.

In his new book, Hunting the Tiger, journalist Christopher S. Stewart tells the story of how Arkan rose from petty criminal to head of Serbia's notorious "Tigers," a death squad that killed, raped and looted its way through the Balkans in the 1990s.

Stewart, who encountered Arkan's forces during a train trip through the Balkans in the late 1990s, provides a first-person look at Arkan's life. Though he became known in Western Europe as the "smiling bank robber" for his Houdini-like escapes from prison, Arkan eventually became one of the region's wealthiest men and married a pop star. Using his prison connections, Arkan rallied gangs of violent thugs to carry out crimes on behalf of Milosevic's regime. Arkan's "Tigers" were blamed for committing atrocities in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo.

But in 1999, as NATO bombs fell on Belgrade, The Hague's International War Crimes Tribunal indicted Arkan for crimes against humanity. By the time he was killed the following year, several former members of Milosevic's regime had already been assassinated.

Jacki Lyden spoke with Stewart about the life and times of Serbia's feared warlord.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.