On May 2, the FBI announced a $1 million reward for "information leading to the apprehension" of Joanne Chesimard, also known as Assata Shakur, who they named a "most-wanted terrorist." Chesimard is the first woman to make the FBI's list. The New Jersey State Police then added another $1 million to the reward pot.
Convicted cop-killer (of a New Jersey state trooper) and "domestic terrorist" Chesimard has been living in Cuba since 1984 as a Castro-coddled celebrity of sorts. And it's not like bounty hunters can operate freely in a Stalinist country. So the $2 million may be symbolic. As in the U.S. Justice Department putting on a game face and saying: "Look, Castro, we're serious here."
In the early 1970s, Chesimard belonged to a Black Panther offshoot known as the Black Liberation Army. "This case is just as important today as it was when it happened 40 years ago," according to a recent press release from Mike Rinaldi, of the New Jersey State Police. "Chesimard was a member of the Black Liberation Army, a radical left-wing terror group that felt justified killing law enforcement officers. ... This group conducted assaults on police stations and murdered police officers."
More than a mere member of these domestic terrorists, Chesimard was described by former FBI Assistant Director John Miller as "the soul of the Black Liberation Army."
In 1973, while wanted for multiple crimes from bank robbery to murder, Chesimard and two accomplices were pulled over for a taillight violation on the New Jersey Turnpike. As the troopers were routinely questioning them, Chesimard (who was in the passenger seat) and her pals opened up on the lawmen with semi-automatic pistols (no word on whether these were properly registered.)
As Trooper Werner Foerster grappled with the driver, Chesimard shot him twice — then her gun apparently jammed. As Foerster lay on the ground wounded and helpless, Chesimard grabbed the trooper's own gun and blasted two shots into his head, much in the manner of her Cuban idols Che Guevara and Raul Castro killing hundreds of their own (always defenseless at the time) "counterrevolutionary" enemies.
"This crime was always considered an act of domestic terrorism," stresses Mr. Rinaldi.
She escaped, but was captured in 1977, convicted of murder and sentenced to life plus 33 years. Then in 1979 she escaped from prison — and with some professional help, probably by Cuban or Cuban-trained terrorists. "Two men smuggled into the prison, took guards hostages and broke her out," explained John Miller to CBS News.
Chesimard's 1979 escape from prison was well-planned, Mr. Rinaldi explained. "Armed domestic terrorists gained entry into the facility, neutralized the guards, broke her free, and turned her over to a nearby getaway team."
"In 1984, they smuggled her to Mexico. Using a network of Cuban intelligence officers who worked with American radical groups, they got her into Cuba," adds Mr. Miller.
Since then, according to New Jersey State Police Col. Rick Fuentes, Chesimard "flaunts her freedom. ... To this day, from her safe haven in Cuba, Chesimard has been given a pulpit (by Castro) to preach and profess, stirring supporters and groups to mobilize against the United States by any means necessary. She has been used by the Castro regime to greet foreign delegations visiting Cuba."
"Joanne Chesimard is a domestic terrorist," declared FBI agent Aaron T. Ford, during a recent news conference. "She absolutely is a threat to America."
Along with coddling Chesimard, Castro's fiefdom provides haven for more than 70 other fugitives from U.S. law, including several on the FBI's most-wanted listed. Cuba harbors convicted cop-killers Michael Finney and Charlie Hill, along with Victor Gerena, responsible for a $7 million heist of a Wells Fargo truck in Connecticut in 1983, as a member of the Puerto Rican terrorist group, Los Macheteros. All requests by U.S. authorities for these criminals' extradition have been rebuffed, often cheekily by Fidel Castro himself: "They want to portray her as a terrorist, something that was an injustice, a brutality, an infamous lie!" is how he answered a U.S. request for Chesimard on May 3, 2005.
Humberto Fontova is author of "Fidel: Hollywood's Favorite Tyrant" (Regnery, 2005).