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Newest 'Most Wanted Terrorist': Should Assata Shakur make the list?

Fugitive Assata Shakur is the first woman named to FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists list. A member of a black militant group, she was convicted of the 1973 murder of a New Jersey trooper. But some say the 'terrorist' label doesn't stick.

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The first domestic terrorist added to the list, according to the FBI, was Daniel Andreas San Diego, in 2009. He is an alleged environmental extremist – the FBI says he has ties to “animal rights extremist groups” – wanted for possible involvement in two 2003 bombings in the San Francisco area.

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Washington Editor

Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.

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As for Joanne Chesimard, the FBI says she was a prominent member of the Black Liberation Army, which from the late 1960s through the 1970s was responsible for the killings of more than a dozen law enforcement officers.

On May 2, 1973, state police stopped a car in which Chesimard and two associates were riding on the New Jersey Turnpike on grounds that it had a broken taillight. At the time, Chesimard was wanted for possible involvement in several felonies, including bank robbery.

“Chesimard and her accomplices opened fire on the troopers. One trooper was wounded and the other was shot and killed execution-style at point-blank range,” reads the FBI’s account of what happened.

One of Chesimard’s companions was killed in the firefight. The other was convicted and remains in jail.

Not everyone agrees that Chesimard belongs on the terrorist list. They note that, among other things, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies used both legal and illegal means to watch and counter left-wing groups in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Nor is there any evidence that Chesimard actually fired the shots that took the life of New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster, said Rutgers University criminal justice professor Lennox Hinds, who was one of her defense attorneys. (Under New Jersey law, an accomplice can also be convicted of first-degree murder.)

“I believe that we have to look at this in the context of what has just happened in Boston,” Mr. Hinds told the self-described progressive news show "Democracy Now!" on Friday. “I think that with the massacre that occurred there, the FBI and the state police are attempting to inflame the public opinion to characterize her as a terrorist, because the acts that she was convicted of have nothing to do with terrorism.”

The FBI, for its part, alleges that Chesimard took an active role in the firefight, including firing the first shot.

“This crime was always considered an act of domestic terrorism,” said Mike Rinaldi, a lieutenant with the New Jersey State Police and a member of the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force in Newark, at Thursday’s press conference.


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