VIENNA - Austrian law authorities have begun investigating claims that photos now removed from the Internet had shown supporters of a soccer club in Adolf Hitler's home town raising their arms in the Nazi salute.
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Austrian news media described several photos, including a particularly jarring one of several youthful "Braunau Bulldogs" - fans of the second-division Braunau soccer club - carrying a club banner and with arms raised high while visiting the former Mauthausen concentration camp. Others showed several youthful fans making the same gesture while gathered in a pizzeria in the nearby town of Pasching, the news media said.
Braunau Mayor Gerhard Skiba said that he met with fan club officials yesterday, and that "they did not deny" that the photos had been displayed on the club's Web site.
Club officials were not answering their cell phones yesterday.
Skiba, in a phone call from Braunau, said he had seen 12 photos connected with the allegations, but could not say if all had been posted on the club's Web site.
Austrian media said the pictures, taken two years ago, were on view until late last year on the fan club's Web site, but were taken off shortly before Christmas. All the fans in the photos appeared to be in their teens, some of them possibly younger than 15, said Skiba.
Police in Linz, the capital of Upper Austria province, confirmed that a legal investigation into the affair had begun, but they declined to offer details.
Austrian news reports said fan club officials offered their apologies on line over the weekend, and distanced the club from extremism of all kinds. Yesterday, the club's Web site displayed a racist and sexist joke - and hundreds of e-mails critical of the photos - but no apology.
Hitler was born in Braunau in 1889. Though his family moved a few years later, the town on the border with Germany remains a shrine for rightist extremists.
Mauthausen, about 100 kilometers to the east of Braunau, was the site of Austria's largest Nazi concentration camp. Over half of its 200,000 inmates were shot, gassed, beaten or worked to death in the main camp or its affiliates.
Skiba said he planned to meet with members of the fan club "to find out their motivation and to make sure that youths do not display such behavior."