NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) - The decades-old international case of a convicted cop killer is getting new attention in New Jersey.
It was 40 years ago today that New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster was shot and killed in a bloody gun battle during a traffic stop along the New Jersey Turnpike.
Joanne Chesimard, 65, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murder. One of her accomplices was killed and another was convicted in Foerster’s death and remains in jail.
In 1979, members of the Black Liberation Army broke Chesimard out of prison and hid her underground before she was able to flee to Cuba where she has been living since mid-1984, officials said.
On Thursday, the FBI made Chesimard the first woman ever to make their list of most wanted terrorists.
“Joanne Chesimard is a domestic terrorist who murdered a law enforcement officer execution-style,” said agent Aaron Ford of the FBI’s Newark division. “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.”
Chesimard, who is now known as Assata Shakur, attends government functions in Cuba and her standard of living is higher than most in the country, officials said.
She was an active and prominent member of the Black Panther Party and later the BLA, which was described as one of the most violent militant organizations of 1970s, officials said. The BLA was responsible for killing more than a dozen police officers in the 1970s and ’80s, said Ford.
In Cuba, Chesimard has continued to espouse her anti-U.S. views in speeches advocating “revolution and terrorism” and may have connections to other international terrorist organizations, Ford said.
“She is a domestic terrorist who murdered a law enforcement officer execution style,” he said. “And while we can’t right the wrongs of the past, we can and will continue to pursue justice no matter how long it takes.”
Chesimard is believed to be one of dozens of American fugitives living in Cuba, many of them one-time members of U.S. militant groups. Cuba doesn’t haven an extradition agreement with the U.S. because of the chilly relations between the two countries over the last five decades, but the climate appears to be slowly changing.
In recent years, Cuba has deported some fugitives back to the U.S., including one man convicted of mail fraud and another sought on child pornography charges. This month, the country returned a Florida couple accused in a custody dispute of kidnapping their two children and sailing to Cuba.
The Cuban government had no immediate comment on Thursday’s announcement. This week, the State Department said it has no plans to remove Cuba from a list of state sponsors of terrorism that also includes Iran, Syria and Sudan. Cuba has denied links to terrorism.
Officials have also doubled the reward, to $2 million, for the capture of Chesimard. The state is adding its own $1 million on top of the million dollars already offered by the FBI for her capture and return.
“Justice has no expiration date and our resolve to capture Joanne Chesimard does not diminish with the passage of time. Instead, it grows ever stronger with the knowledge that this killer continues to live free,” said Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa. “We honor Trooper Foerster, a true hero, by keeping the focus on this fugitive, and we hope that this augmented reward will spur action that will bring Chesimard back to face the justice she has evaded for far too long.”
Individuals with information concerning Chesimard are asked to contact the FBI’s tip line at 1-800-CALL-FBI.
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