updated 4/1/2004 2:25:29 PM ET 2004-04-01T19:25:29

NATO troops raided a church and rectory in search of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic on Thursday but failed to find the world’s most sought after 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, Amra Odobasic, a spokeswoman for the Tuzla Clinical Center, told The Associated Press.

Canadian Capt. Dave Sullivan, a spokesman for Bosnia’s NATO-led peacekeepers, 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 U.N. war crimes tribunal.

Sullivan confirmed that the pre-dawn sweep was an attempt to capture Karadzic, indicted by the U.N. tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, on suspicion of war crimes. Pale was Karadzic’s headquarters during the Bosnian war — Europe’s worst bloodshed since World War II. His wife and daughter still live there.

“This operation forms part of a sustained campaign against persons indicted for war crimes,” Sullivan said. “They can run, but they can’t hide.”

Thousands protest raid
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.

Outraged at the action, about 3,000 people gathered Thursday to protest outside the church, carrying banners reading “Nobody will arrest a Serb.” They lit candles and prayed for the two men wounded in the sweep. Many wrapped themselves in Serbia’s flag.

NATO has tried unsuccessfully several times to arrest Karadzic, believed to be on the run inside the Bosnian Serb half of Bosnia.

The indictment against Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, his fugitive wartime general, accuses them of being “criminally responsible for the unlawful confinement, murder, rape, sexual assault, torture, beating, robbery and inhumane treatment of civilians.”

Among actions the two are accused of masterminding is the massacre of up to 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica, Europe’s worst slaughter of civilians since World War II.

The war began in early 1992, after Bosnian Serbs refused to honor the results of a February referendum accepted by the republic’s Muslims and Croats that called for its secession from Yugoslavia. Ensuing clashes led to full-scale war that killed hundreds of thousands and left close to a million others homeless.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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