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New Jersey trooper's killer is first woman on FBI most wanted terror list

Joanne Deborah Chesimard is seen in a combination of undated Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) handout photos. REUTERS/FBI/Handout via R
Joanne Deborah Chesimard is seen in a combination of undated Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) handout photos. REUTERS/FBI/Handout via R

By David Jones

NEWARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - A convicted killer and former Black Liberation Army member who fled to Cuba became the first woman to be put on the FBI's most wanted terrorists list on Thursday, and the reward for her capture was doubled to $2 million.

Joanne Chesimard, 65, still lives in Cuba following her escape from a New Jersey prison in 1979, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation said on the 40th anniversary of the crime.

While there is no new threat from Chesimard, she is considered a "domestic terrorist," the agency said.

"While living openly and freely in Cuba she continues to maintain and promote her terrorist ideology," said Aaron Ford, special agent in charge of the FBI's Newark, New Jersey, field office, at a news conference.

Chesimard, now known as Assata Shakur, was convicted in 1977 of the murder of Trooper Werner Foerster on May 2, 1973.

"Today, on the anniversary of Trooper Werner Foerster's death, we want the public to know that we will not rest until this fugitive is brought to justice," Ford said.

Asked if the case was part of any larger discussions with the Cuban government, Ford said he could not comment on behalf of the U.S. government regarding policy.

He noted that anyone with information leading to her capture would be eligible for the reward, "whether they are in the United States or abroad."

Foerster and another trooper stopped Chesimard and two others on the New Jersey Turnpike for a motor vehicle violation, and a gunfight broke out, authorities said.

Foerster, along with a passenger in the car with Chesimard, were killed in the gun battle. Foerster had a 3-year-old son, authorities said.

Chesimard and Clark Squire, the driver of the car, were convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Chesimard had left the Black Panther Party by then and became a member of the Black Liberation Army.

During her trial and imprisonment, Chesimard, who was represented by the late civil rights attorney William Kunstler, became a cause among the left, some of whom argued she was a victim of racism and mistreatment.

Attorney Ron Kuby, who worked with Kunstler starting in the 1980s and interviewed her in Cuba in 1987, disputed the FBI's notion that she poses a threat to the United States.

He said he did not think she had gotten a fair trial and that the U.S. government had been locked in an ongoing battle with black revolutionary movements in the 1970's.

"Let's not overstate the contours of this," Kuby told Reuters. "Assata Shakur was the embodiment of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army at a time when there was a low intensity war between black radicals and the U.S."

She escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Clinton, New Jersey with the help of three visitors who were members of radical groups and were carrying hidden weapons, authorities said.

She surfaced in Cuba in 1984, they said.

The reward for her capture was being doubled with the goal of having her returned to the United States to serve out her sentence, said New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa.

This additional reward money will be funded by the state's criminal forfeiture funds, he said.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Richard Chang)

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