Analysts: 'Most wanted terrorist' listing has no legal impact on US fugitive in Cuba

2013-05-04T00:00:00Z 2013-08-23T14:51:29Z Analysts: 'Most wanted terrorist' listing has no legal impact on US fugitive in CubaJuan O. Tamayo Mcclatchy Newspapers Arizona Daily Star
May 04, 2013 12:00 am  • 

MIAMI - The FBI's decision to put U.S. fugitive Joanne Chesimard, who lives in Havana, on its list of "Most Wanted Terrorists" shines a light on her case but has no legal effect on her or Cuba, according to analysts.

Chesimard, a former member of the Black Panthers and Black Liberation Army, was convicted in the 1973 murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster; she escaped from prison in 1979 and turned up in Havana in 1984.

Now using the name of Assata Shakur, she was classified as a domestic terrorist in 2005 and on Thursday was added to the list of "Most Wanted Terrorists," with a $2 million bounty for her arrest. She has maintained that she is innocent.

Gus Coldebella, former acting general counsel at the Homeland Security Department, said the decision to put her on the list reminds the public of her crime and may put pressure on Cuban ruler Raúl Castro to extradite her - "which, while unlikely, is a possibility."

Cuba and the United States do not have an extradition agreement. Cuba has occasionally extradited U.S. common criminals, but provides safe haven to more than 70 U.S. fugitives, most of them considered by Havana to have been politically persecuted.

Fidel Castro reportedly granted Chesimard, now 65, political asylum as a victim of U.S. racism. She generally shuns public appearances and news media interviews.

The FBI designation also may "have the effect of deincentivizing other people - in the U.S. and elsewhere - from providing her with material support," Coldebella said.

But the "Most Wanted Terrorist" designation carries with it no special sanctions for either Chesimard or Cuba, Coldebella said, despite speculation in Miami that the list means U.S. officials can use any means to try to capture or kill the people on it.

"I can see no legal effect of putting her on the list," he said. "The FBI actually designated her a 'domestic terrorist' in 2005, and putting her on the 'Most Wanted' list has no additional legal effect."

The Justice Department has "clarified somewhat the conditions under which the government could order a drone strike against an American citizen, and I think it's fair to say that moving someone onto the 'Most Wanted' list doesn't affect what the government can or cannot do," he added.

Asked about the effect of putting Chesimard on the list, FBI Newark Division public affairs officer Luis Rodriguez said simply, "She was a fugitive that has now been added to the 'Most Wanted Terrorist'" list.

Chesimard's designation caused a media stir because it came amid reports that the Obama administration will not remove Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. Iran, Syria and Sudan are also on the list.

Advocates of improving U.S. relations with Havana had been pushing to take Cuba off the list as the first move in a string of measures to eventually lead to the lifting of the half-century old U.S. embargo on the island.

If the administration wants to erase Cuba from the list, Chesimard's newly heightened profile could make that more difficult.

On StarNet: See a photo gallery of the FBI's most-wanted terrorists at azstarnet.com/gallery

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