updated 9/17/2009 7:20:26 PM ET 2009-09-17T23:20:26

A Spanish judge on Thursday indicted three alleged ex-Nazi death camp guards who all lived for many years in the United States, charging them with being accessories to genocide and crimes against humanity.

Judge Ismael Moreno of the National Court issued international arrest warrants for Johann Leprich, Anton Tittjung and Josias Kumpf. The 18-page indictment says Kumpf apparently now lives in Austria and the other two are still in the United States.

Joseph McGinness, a lawyer in Cleveland, Ohio, said he represents Leprich and Tittjung.

"They are both mentally and physically incompetent," McGinness said. "Spain's going to have an enormous amount of problems taking care of these people."

He said they were simple guards forced into service who "stood out in the rain, watched the snow come down. ... That's your Nazi war criminal. They hated it."

Leprich is from Macomb County's Clinton Township, near Detroit.

The judge acted in part under Spain's observance of the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows particularly heinous crimes such as genocide, torture or terrorism to be prosecuted in Spain even if they are alleged to have been committed elsewhere.

He also acted because thousands of Spaniards were among the millions who died in Nazi concentration camps. Moreno has been investigating the issue since July 2008 at the request of several Spaniards who survived their ordeals.

A fourth suspect named in the original complaint, retired Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk, was deported from the United States to Germany in May and faces trial there. He is not included in the Spanish indictment.

'Welcome development'
Moreno wrote Thursday that he has concluded the three suspects were members of the Nazis' Totenkopf SS guard corps and served in death camps, either Mauthausen in Nazi-occupied Austria or Sachsenhausen in Germany.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel said the Spanish indictment marks a huge change for a country it described as a refuge for Nazi war criminals when Gen. Francisco Franco was in power until 1975, and even after the return of democracy in Spain after his death that year.

"But this is obviously something completely different. This is a really welcome development," said the center's chief Nazi-hunter, Efraim Zuroff. "We commend the Spanish court for making this decision."

All three suspects settled in the United States after World War II and eventually acquired U.S. citizenship, but were stripped of it in recent years after U.S. authorities concluded they had concealed their Nazi past. The United States has tried for years to deport them but found no country willing to take them in until Kumpf was deported to Austria in March.

Tittjung, born in what is now Croatia, lives in Kewaunee, Wisconsin, and Romanian-born Leprich lives near Detroit, Michigan. Both were born in 1925.

Kumpf, 84, was born in what is now Serbia and had lived in Racine, Wisconsin before being deported.

Universal justice
In Vienna, Justice Ministry spokeswoman Katharina Swoboda said Austria has not been officially notified of the indictments but ministry officials were contacting their Spanish counterparts about them. Still, she said there was no legal basis in Austria for extraditing Kumpf to Spain because his alleged crimes fall under a statute of limitations.

Swoboda stressed that Austria had tried to make that point clear during intense negotiations with the United States before Kumpf was deported. In the end, Austria had to take him in because he emigrated to the United States from there.

After his deportation, Kumpf spent the first few months in the westernmost Austrian province of Vorarlberg but was then reportedly moved to the Austrian capital of Vienna after local authorities came under fire for covering his health care costs.

Neither the Interior nor the Justice Ministry on Thursday could provide information on Kumpf's whereabouts or medical condition.

Spanish judges have used the principle of universal justice to go after former Chilean ruler Augusto Pinochet in 1998 and Osama bin Laden in 2003, but extraditions and convictions have been extremely rare.

The cross-border cases have angered other countries and this summer Parliament narrowed the doctrine to cases involving Spaniard victims or when the alleged perpetrator of a crime was physically in Spain. But the change was not retroactive, so cases already on the books remained active.

More on: John Demjanjuk

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