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US military to probe extremists in ranks

Washington - The Pentagon is to launch a big investigation of extremists and hate-groups within its ranks, following what appear to have been two racially motivated murders last week, allegedly by white servicemen in one of the army's most celebrated units, writes Rupert Cornwell.

A black couple, Michael James and Jackie Burden, were killed on the streets of Fayetteville, North Carolina, near the base of the 82nd Airborne Division. Three soldiers of the elite 82nd have been charged with the crime, committed after a night's drinking. All three have admitted to being neo-Nazi sympathisers.

The inquiry, to be completed within three months, will take investigators to units stationed across the US, Europe and Asia. Hitherto the military, 30 per cent of whose personnel are black, has been held up as the most integrated institution in US life. But specialists say white supremacists and other far-right groups are proliferating within the armed forces as well.

The most alarming evidence came in April, with the Oklahoma City bombing that killed more than 160 people. According to the indictment, it was carried out by two former army enlistees with close links to the separatist militias to be found across the country, but especially in the South and West.