War Criminal Andrija Artukovic Dies in Yugoslav Prison Hospital

Andrija Artukovic, the former Croatian interior minister convicted of murdering 700,000 Jews, Croats, Serbs and Gypsies during World War II, died Saturday in a prison hospital in Zagreb, Yugoslavia.

Artukovic, 89, was deported there from the United States two years ago, after a 36-year battle with U.S. and Yugoslav authorities.

The Yugoslavian news agency Tanjug said Artukovic died of “an illness,” but did not elaborate.

Artukovic was already in frail health in 1986, when U.S. marshalls spirited him from his home in Seal Beach, Calif. to stand trial in Yugoslavia for war crimes that earned him the nicknames “Butcher of the Balkans” and “Himmler of Croatia.”

Heinrich Himmler headed Germany’s Gestapo and SS extermination units during World War II.

The Yugoslav court sentenced Artukovic to the firing squad, but the sentence had been postponed indefinitely because of his poor health.

Artukovic was the first Nazi war criminal to be extradited from the United States following the establishment of the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations in 1979. As a high-ranking official of the fascist Ustashi regime, established as a Nazi puppet state between 1941 to 1945, Artukovic was responsible for the operation of the concentration camps in Croatia.

After the war, Artukovic entered the United States under an assumed name. Yugoslav officials first requested his extradition for trial on 22 counts of murder in 1952, but it was not until 1986 that Artukovic, then an established member of a Croatian community south of Los Angeles, used up the last of his appeals, this time to Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist.

The Yugoslavian court found the elderly Artukovic guilty of four specific charges, three of which included mass murder.

Artukovic and his wife Ana-Maria raised five children. According to Tanjug, his body is to be cremated and his ashes disposed of secretly.

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