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Former US soldier accused of ‘international crimes’ extradited from Ukraine, officials say

Federal prosecutors say a former U.S. soldier has been extradited from Ukraine to face years-long charges related to an alleged “international crime spree” that includes the 2018 murder and robbery of a Florida couple to finance travel plans to Venezuela to serve in the military…

A former U.S. soldier has been extradited from Ukraine to face years-long allegations that he committed an alleged “international crime spree,” including the murder and robbery of a Florida couple in 2018, to finance travel plans to Venezuela and carry out military raids against the government there, federal prosecutors said Monday.

In a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice, authorities noted that Craig Austin Lang, 34, has been facing federal charges in Florida, North Carolina and Arizona since 2019. The FBI brought Lang to the U.S. from Ukraine after the European Court of Human Rights rejected his extradition request, the press release said. Lang, a U.S. citizen from Surprise, Arizona, pleaded not guilty in Florida on Monday, court documents show.

In the three cases, Lang faces a range of charges, including using a weapon in a deadly crime of violence in Florida, violating the Neutrality Act and conspiring to murder people in another country for his plans in Venezuela, a country with which the U.S. has made peace, the indictment says.

Several months after the alleged murders in Florida, Lang traded a military-style smoke grenade, weapons and cash in North Carolina to apply for a U.S. passport under another person's identity, another indictment says. And in Arizona, he is accused of presenting a U.S. passport to Mexican authorities in September 2018 to obtain a Mexican visa, violating the terms of the passport.

“Lang’s alleged conduct is shocking in its magnitude and callous disregard for human life,” said Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri, chief of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

The Associated Press emailed Lang's attorney for comment on the charges and extradition.

In addition to Lang, several other people have now been charged in the Florida and North Carolina cases and have already been convicted or pleaded guilty.

The Florida killings occurred in April 2018, a year after Lang and another former U.S. soldier, Alex Jared Zwiefelhofer, met in Ukraine, where they claimed to be part of a volunteer battalion fighting Russian separatists, authorities said. The two were arrested in Kenya in 2017 while trying to enter South Sudan and were eventually deported to the U.S., an FBI affidavit said.

In Florida, a Brooksville couple in their 50s tried to buy guns that Lang and Zwiefelhofer had offered for sale online, but the two men allegedly killed the couple to steal the $3,000 they had demanded for the weapons, authorities said.

In conversations on Facebook Messenger that began the previous month, Lang and Zwiefelhofer discussed traveling to Florida, purchasing body armor, robberies, stealing boats, fleeing to South America or Ukraine and smuggling weapons and ammunition, the FBI affidavit said.

Federal authorities said they found records of Lang leaving Mexico City for Bogota, Colombia, in September 2018 and leaving Colombia for Madrid, Spain, in November of that year. But there was no record of Lang re-entering the U.S. after leaving Mexico. The FBI agent's August 2019 affidavit said social media posts showed Lang was in Ukraine at the time.

A jury found Zwiefelhofer guilty in the Florida case in March, including use of a firearm during a deadly crime of violence and other charges. He is awaiting sentencing.

The AP has emailed an attorney representing Zwiefelhofer for comment on developments in the Lang case.