KYIV — A court in Ukraine has ruled that a former US Army soldier who fought with a Ukrainian right-wing paramilitary unit can be extradited to Florida to face double murder charges.
Craig Lang, 30, an Army veteran from North Carolina, has been charged with killing and robbing a couple after he returned from fighting with Right Sector, a Ukrainian far-right paramilitary group, in April 2018. A criminal complaint and extradition request filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida said the killing was part of a bizarre and bloody plan hatched by Lang and a coconspirator to fund their adventures fighting abroad.
He is charged alongside Alex Zwiefelhofer, 23, another Army veteran who fought alongside him and far-right extremists in eastern Ukraine. Zwiefelhofer is in federal custody in the US awaiting trial.
US officials and researchers studying extremism have been increasingly concerned about Americans who travel to eastern Ukraine to gain combat experience with far-right militant groups.
In that sense, Lang’s pending extradition is a victory for US authorities who are confronting the rise of extremist violence and domestic terrorism in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. President Joe Biden has vowed to go after white supremacists and ordered a review of their threat to national security.
Ukraine’s move to send the American veteran back home is also likely to help repair its relations with Washington, DC, strained by former president Donald Trump and his associates, who had pressured the country to do their political bidding in an attempt to damage Biden’s campaign.
Lang lost his battle to remain in Ukraine on Monday, when the Kyiv Court of Appeal, citing the denial of his asylum application, upheld the order by the country’s prosecutor general to extradite him to Lee County in Florida, where the crimes occurred. The same court had canceled the extradition order in February while Lang’s asylum application was being considered by Ukraine’s migration service.
Another hearing on whether he should be taken into custody is yet to be scheduled.
Lang and his lead lawyer, Dmytro Morhun, told BuzzFeed News they would ask the European Court of Human Rights to review the case. Morhun argued that Lang shouldn’t be extradited to Florida, where he could face the death penalty, which Ukraine abolished in 2000.
Federal prosecutors have suggested that they will seek the death penalty against Zwiefelhofer, a sign that they will likely do the same with Lang.
Speaking to BuzzFeed News after Monday’s ruling, Lang claimed the court had been “rigged” against him. During the interview, he shouted repeatedly at a woman he said was an FBI agent who had come to observe.
According to US authorities, Lang and Zwiefelhofer shot, killed, and robbed Serafin Lorenzo, 53, and Deana Lorenzo, 51, in Estero, Florida, on April 9, 2018. They allegedly took $3,000 the couple had with them.
Authorities say Lang and Zwiefelhofer had laid a trap for the married couple, who had believed they were conducting a legal purchase of firearms with a buyer they’d met online. After killing the couple, authorities alleged, the former soldiers planned to flee by yacht to South America, where they wanted to “participate in an armed conflict against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela” and kill “communists.”
Lang and Zwiefelhofer had met in Ukraine, where in 2016 they joined a far-right extremist group called Right Sector, notorious for its neo-Nazi membership and alleged human rights abuses.
Born out of an alliance of right-wing militant groups formed during Ukraine’s popular uprising in winter 2013, Right Sector transformed into a fighting battalion after Russia annexed Crimea and sparked a separatist war in eastern Ukraine months later.
Infighting eventually split the battalion in two; one group was brought under the control of Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, and the other remained an unofficial group of volunteer fighters.
Following the killings, Lang found his way to South America but opted not to fight. Instead, he made his way back to Kyiv, where he met a young woman and got engaged. Lang made a brief trip to Moldova to restamp his passport so the two could get married. He was detained by Ukrainian authorities in August 2019 after returning. An Interpol warrant had been issued for his arrest.
Lang has spent the past 18 months either in a detention facility or under some form of house arrest in the central cities of Vinnytsia and Kyiv. He and his fiancé had a baby, and he has taught English lessons online to support himself.
Mamuka Mamulashvili, the commander of the Georgian National Legion — a pro-Kyiv volunteer fighting unit that Lang joined for a brief time — told BuzzFeed News the American was not a problem.
“As a soldier, I can’t say anything bad about him,” he said, adding that he was unaware of Lang’s trouble with US law enforcement. But, because of the shadow Lang has cast, he no longer admits Americans into his unit.
Roman Stepanovych, a founder of the Zaborona news site, reported from Kyiv.