A killer hunted by British police for 23 years was protected by international terrorist networks, a Mirror probe can reveal.
Dangerous fugitive Justin Clarke, 62, became a wanted man after executing builder Paul Milburn, 43, in 1993 – shooting him through a car window at point-blank range.
But a Mirror investigation has uncovered how foreign intelligence sources believe Clarke was able to escape justice because of his connections to the international arms trade and associations with the IRA, the French Foreign Legion and Islamist terror cells in the Middle East.
He was finally snared by UK police in Berlin, in 2016.
We can reveal that during Clarke’s two decades on the run, he lived like a “king in the desert” in Qatar and forged a brazen new life in the ruins of post-war Yugoslavia.
He repeatedly slipped the net despite bragging about the murder, smuggling weapons and being arrested five times in Croatia.
Clarke managed to escape once again in 2008, when the authorities in the Middle East were tipped off that he was living in a self-built fortified camp in the middle of the desert.
He was supposedly working for Croatian engineering firm Konstrucktor as head of legal affairs, but in reality, he defied orders from the company’s HQ in Split and built a camp, where he lived with “concubines”.
Colleagues from the time say Clarke was “hard-drinking”, “dangerous” and that he “went rogue”.
A source said: “Clarke was clearly protected. It was well known he had links with terror groups in Palestine.
It is believed he helped smuggle arms to the Croatian army via the IRA and a Palestinian contact in Yugoslavia from 1991.
“There were shadowy figures looking out for him, there can be no doubt about that.”
Qatar is one of the world’s biggest investors in Palestine’s Gaza Strip.
A former colleague said: “He liked to have a drink and brag.
He would often brag about smuggling weapons and even how he had murdered a woman and a man in Britain.”
The Mirror learned Clarke was arrested on suspicion of killing a woman before he murdered Mr Milburn.
He was questioned in 1987, aged around 32, after a woman living in London was murdered, but later released without charge.
The colleague added: “Everyone knew he was dangerous, he had a bad temper, especially when drinking. He lived like a king in the desert surrounded by girls.
"Concubines, from across the world. Somehow the authorities found out. One day, his camp was surrounded like a villain from a James Bond film.
"It was like in the movies – dark cars, secret police with weapons.
“He escaped because he was most certainly tipped off – just a few minutes before, he entered the office with 500 passports, took one from a Bosnian guy and fled.”
It is believed Clarke escaped from Qatar to Hungary, before going to Berlin.
Our investigation discovered how Clarke escaped justice and forged a life of crime for himself in Eastern Europe.
He began his fugitive life hiding in plain sight on the beautiful Dalmatian Coast of Croatia.
He even started a family, marrying a young local woman and having a son in 2006. They have now been forced into hiding themselves.
While there, he was acting as a criminal enforcer, threatening locals at gunpoint while bragging about being a fugitive.
Incredibly, Clarke was arrested at least five times by Croatian police from 1995 to 2007 for threatening and violent behaviour.
All were dismissed by the State Attorney before they got to trial – and the British authorities were never alerted.
Last night, a hotel owner who knew him in the seaside town of Baska Voda said: “He would boast he could kill you with a phone call.
“He made our life hell, we cannot believe he was not caught sooner.”
Locals claim he used his cover as head of security at a hotel to act as an enforcer for criminal bosses.
Another local who remembered Clarke, but would not be named fearing reprisals, said: “It was his job to do security – but really it was to threaten people. He terrorised this town, this whole coastline.
“If things did not go his way, he would put a gun to your head.
“He always had a pistol – he would never pay for anything.
“One time, he even put a gun to the head of an important local politician – nothing was done about it.
“Another time, our relative did a job for him on a property. They were owed money, but Clarke threatened to shoot him instead. Everyone lived in fear of him.”
Clarke, who served in the French Foreign legion and boasted of IRA links, is believed to have used his underworld contacts to flee to the then-Yugoslavia after the murder of dad-of-two Mr Milburn from Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, in St Albans, Herts.
He contacted him to set up a £20,000 drug deal, but instead shot him with a .45 automatic pistol.
He later joined the Croatian army, where his aggressive fighting style earned him the nickname “The Truck”.
After the conflict in 1995, he lived in Croatia, before moving to Qatar in 2007 and joining Konstrucktor, later moving again to Hungary
He was finally snared in Germany by British police in 2016 after they discovered he was still in touch with family and friends back home.
Clarke was convicted at Woolwich crown court last month of the murder of Mr Milburn.
He stayed in his cell at HMP Belmarsh during the trial, refusing to appear in the dock.
He was given a minimum life sentence of 25 years.
The Croatian Interior Ministry was asked how Clarke was allowed to lived in Croatia freely for so long, but declined to comment.