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    Two Former US Soldiers Accused of 2018 Florida Murder Linked to Ukrainian Far-Right Militia

    © Photo: U.S. Army / Spc. Randy Wren
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    Craig Lang and Alex Zwiefelhofer, two former enlisted soldiers in the US Army, were charged this week for a double homicide and armed robbery that unfolded in April 2018, a Wednesday release from the US Justice Department has revealed.

    According to the release, the pair were charged with “conspiracy to commit robbery affecting commerce and to discharge a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, robbery interfering in commerce, and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, resulting in death.”

    Court documents state that Lang and Zwiefelhofer were linked to the April 10, 2018, murder of a Florida couple who had intended to purchase multiple firearms from the former soldiers in exchange for roughly $3,000. However, rather than a successful transaction unfolding, the two Floridians were killed and robbed of their money.

    The criminal complaint against the former soldiers indicates that the pair “conspired to commit and committed these crimes to obtain US currency to fund travel to Venezuela to participate in an armed conflict against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.”

    It further notes that when Zwiefelhofer was interviewed at North Carolina’s Charlotte-Douglas International Airport by agents from the FBI and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in August 2017, the former US soldier revealed that he and Lang had met in Ukraine, where the duo enlisted and fought with the Right Sector, a volunteer fighting battalion that combats Russian separatists.

    Lang enlisted in the US Army in November 2008 and was discharged in June 2014. As for Zwiefelhofer, he entered duty in April 2015 and went Absent Without Leave in September 2016. He was formally discharged from the service until February 2018.

    Both Lang and Zwiefelhofer admitted their ties to Ukraine to federal agents only after they were deported back to the US after trying to enter South Sudan without visas, court documents note. In Lang’s July 2017 interview with a CBP officer following his deportation, he noted that he had been a “soldier and a military adviser to the Ukraine Army since 2015.”

    The two former soldiers stated in their interviews that they’d attempted to enter Kenya and the Sudan in an attempt to join the countries’ respective militaries and to “fight against al-Shabaab.”

    Should the pair be found guilty on all federal charges, they face up to life in prison or the death penalty.

    Incidentally, Lang is also linked to Jarrett William Smith, a 24-year-old infantry soldier with the US Army who was charged in a Kansas federal court on Monday with one count of distributing information related to explosives and weapons of mass destruction.

    “This should be one of the biggest scandals in the world right now, but of course, it is being reported, but it’s being misreported,” Ben Norton, a journalist with The Grayzone, told Sputnik Radio’s By Any Means Necessary on Friday of Smith’s arrest. 

    “When you actually dig into the details, it's even more scandalous, and the surface level media coverage is not mentioning the fact that this far-right extremist was also for years planning to join a Ukrainian neo-Nazi militia and was in regular correspdonce with fighters with Ukrainian neo-Nazi militas and giving them intelligence on how to build bombs.”

    According to the Justice Department, Smith offered via Facebook chats to teach interested individuals how to make explosive cellphone devices “in the style of the Afghans,” even telling an undercover investigator how to construct a vehicle bomb and of his desire to kill Antifa members and destroy cell towers and a local news station.

    However, aside from his explosive-related interests, Smith also wanted to join the ranks of the Azov Battalion, a far-right Ukrainian paramilitary group that has been incorporated into Ukraine’s National Guard following the 2014 coup that saw the ouster of then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

    Citing an FBI affidavit, the New York Times reported this week that Smith spoke in June 2016 with a man who had already traveled and fought with a similar group regarding his possible enlistment into the Azov Battalion. In that conversation, Smith indicated that if he were unable to “find a slot in Ukraine,” he would simply opt for the US Army.

    “To fight is what I want to do,” Smith said in the exchange. He ended up enlisting in the US Army in June 2017.

    As it turns out, however, the man that Smith spoke to was Lang, who had been fighting with the Right Sector.

    Norton told hosts Eugene Puryear and Bob Schlehuber that the Azov Battalion is backed by the US government. “There’s so many levels of scandal here,” the journalist stressed, explaining that Washington’s funding of the battalion began under the Obama administration and has since continued under the Trump administration.

    “There's no denying whatsoever that these are avowed neo-Nazis and white supremacists, but because they’re fighting the official boogeyman - Russia - the US turned a blind eye,” Norton said. “Not only turned a blind eye - in 2017 the Azov Battalion on its official website posted photos of American and Canadian military advisors meeting with the Azov Battalion and providing them assistance so they can fight Russia hand in hand.”

    “This should be an enormous scandal, because the FBI in the criminal complaint filed in a Kansas district court this week … pointed out that this US Army extremist whose name is Jarrett William Smith - he tried to join the Azov Battalion, which the FBI described as a violent, far-right paramilitary based in Ukraine,” he added, noting that the agency “conveniently left out the fact that this violent, far-right paramilitary is also supported by the US government.”

    In Smith’s case, if he’s convicted on the charge, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

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    Right Sector, Azov Battalion, homicide, Justice Department, Soldiers, Ukraine, US Army
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