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Poland accuses US citizen of being Nazi commander

Michael Karkoc is accused of being a former commander in an SS-led unit. He and his family deny the accusation. Picture by Chris Polydoroff, Pioneer Press via Associated Press

Poland will seek the arrest and extradition of a Minnesota man after confirming he was a Nazi unit commander suspected of ordering the killing of 44 Poles during the Second World War, a prosecutor said.

Robert Janicki said that various evidence gathered in years of investigation into the US citizen "100 per cent" that he was a commander of a unit in the SS-led Ukrainian Self Defence Legion, which is accused of burning villages and killing civilians in Poland.

The Associated Press has identified the man as Michael Karkoc (98), from Minneapolis.

Karkoc's family denies that he was involved in any war crimes.

Prosecutors of the state National Remembrance Institute have asked a regional court in Lublin, Poland, to issue an arrest warrant for Karkoc.

If granted, Poland would seek his extradition, as Poland does not allow trial in absentia, Mr Janicki said.

He said the man's age was no obstacle in seeking to bring him before justice.

"He is our suspect as of today," Mr Janicki said.

If convicted of contributing to the killing of civilians in the villages of Chlaniow and Wladyslawin in July 1944, Karkoc could face a prison term for life.

Karkoc's son said the claims about his father are "misinformation or disinformation" launched by Vladimir Putin's government.

Andriy Karkoc said his father was not in Poland and was not responsible for any war crimes.

He accused The Associated Press of "scandalous and baseless slanders", and he said AP is "letting itself be used as a tool for Putin's fake news".

Meanwhile, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre's top Nazi hunter is applauding the prosecutors for deciding to seek an arrest warrant for Karkoc.

Efraim Zuroff said that "it's high time that the Poles became more active seeking people who committed crimes in World War II on Polish soil".

He says any legal step "sends a very powerful message".

Prosecutors in Germany previously launched their own investigation of Karkoc after stories in 2013 by The Associated Press revealing that he had been a former commander in the SS-led unit that had committed war crimes in Poland.

They never expressed doubts about Karkoc's identity, but shelved their investigation after saying they had received "comprehensive medical documentation" from doctors at the geriatric hospital in the US where he was being treated that led them to conclude he was not fit for trial.

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