MOSCOW -- Accused Nazi war criminal Karl Linnas, deported from the United States minutes after losing a legal battle, was flown today to the Soviet republic of Estonia where he was condemned to death in absentia 25 years ago for war crimes.
Soviet spokesman Gennady Geramisov said Linnas, 67, arrived in Prague aboard a Czechoslovak airliner from New York and Soviet authorities took him into custody for the second leg of the trip.
'From the Czechoslovak capital he was brought to Tallinn on board a Soviet plane,' Tass said.
The news agency said Linnas had 'offered his services to Nazis' during the war.
'He staged and conducted mass executions of Soviet citizens and personally took part in them,' the agency said.
Linnas was sentenced to death in absentia in 1962 in the Estonian city of Tartu after being convicted of running the Tartu concentration camp where 12,000 people died during World War II. Estonia now is part of the Soviet Union and after the conviction, Moscow requested his extradition.
'He has already been condemned and the circumstances of his case are ... convincing,' Gerasimov said at a briefing for reporters.
'I don't think he's a kind of hero to have publicity,' Gerasmiv told reporters trying to ascertain when he would arrive in the Soviet Union. 'He is a criminal.'
Linnas, who emigrated to the United States in 1951, was stripped of his U.S. citizenship in 1981 for concealing his wartime activities. The Supreme Court upheld the decision the following year and he was ordered deported in 1983 but the retired land surveyor from Greenlawn, N.Y., appealed.
With his U.S. appeals rejected at every turn and finally turned down by the Supreme Court Monday, Linnas became the first suspected Nazi war criminal deported to the Soviet Union against his will. His case triggered a battle that split the Reagan administration and pitted Jewish and Eastern European immigrant communities against one another.
But Linnas still may appeal the death sentence in the Soviet Union. Geraismov said Linnas also can ask the Supreme Soviet for a pardon and a decision 'will be shorter than normal or usual for American justice.'
In a commentary before his arrival, the official Tass news agency said the United States had ordered the deportation 'with regret.'
'It took American justice two years to strip the Nazi criminal of U.S. citizenship and make a ruling on deportation. The motivation, however, was not his guilt but the false account of himself he had given to the American immigration authorities when he entered the country,' Tass said.
'The deportation order did not specify the country which he was to be sent. That ruling played into the hands of the criminal's backers in the U.S.A. and they started with the connivance of Washington officials a lawsuit to have the deportation order canceled,' Tass said singling out Attorney General Edwin Meese as one of Linnas's 'backers.'
Linnas was forced onto a Czechoslovakian airliner that left Kennedy International Airport at 8:06 p.m. Monday, 10 minutes after a last-minute request for a stay of deportation was denied by Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
Linnas, wearing a brown fedora and a suit and tie with a coat draped over his handcuffed wrists and his long, white beard flowing, rushed toward reporters at the New York airport and begged them to tell Americans his deportation was wrong.
'What they are doing right now is murder and kidnapping,' he shouted.
The decision to deport Linnas was hailed by Jewish groups and decried by the man's daughter.
'He's my father,' Anu Linnas said in Washington. 'He's innocent and this is an injustice. He's been wrongly deported to die ... without ever getting to say he's innocent.'
But Neal Sher, head of the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations, said Linnas had many opportunities to present his case.
'This case has been litigated for nearly eight years. Every claim he has made has been rejected by the courts and judges have found the evidence 'overwhelming' that he participated in mass executions,' Sher said. 'The eventual deportation of Linnas sends the right message that the United States is not going to be a haven for Nazi war criminals.'
Attorneys for Linnas, leading conservatives in the Reagan administration and East European groups said the case against him was based on questionable evidence provided by the Soviet Union.
Former White House communications director Patrick Buchanan was among the people to intervene on Linnas's behalf and asked Meese to block the deportation.
Last week, Meese agreed to send Linnas to Panama instead of the Soviet Union. Later that day Panama withdrew its decision to take him and a dozen other countries also rejected his appeal for asylum.
Linnas is the 14th suspected war criminal to be ousted from the United States as a result of a probe by the Office of Special Investigations, and the first to be sent to the Soviet Union against his will. Treblinka death camp guard Fedor Fedorenko, deported in December 1984, asked to be sent to the Soviet Union and has been sentenced to death, pending appeal.
Ernest Zelig, president of B'nai Zion, applauded the deportation of Linnas, saying, 'He has received due process, something he denied his 12,000 innocent victims at the Tartu concentration camp.'