Former presidential candidate and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie appealed to the federal government to force Cuba to hand over Assata Shakur, the former Black Panther convicted for the murder of a state trooper in the 1970s and controversially added to the FBI’s most wanted terrorists list in 2013.
Christie renewed his plea during a recent appearance on Fox News. He identified Shakur by her former name, Joanne Chesimard, during an interview with Tucker Carlson. Shakur is listed as New Jersey’s most wanted fugitive. She became the first woman on the FBI’s most wanted terrorists list when she was added on the 40th anniversary of the New Jersey Turnpike shootout that led to her imprisonment.
Saturday marked 40 years since Shakur was convicted for the death of State Trooper Werner Foerster. Foerster was killed during a gunfight after a traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1973. Shakur was sentenced to life in prison in 1977, but escaped in November 1979 and fled to Cuba, where she was granted asylum by late President Fidel Castro in the mid-1980s.
Shakur has always maintained her innocence in the crime for which she was convicted. She argued she was unfairly targeted by Cointelpro, the FBI’s covert surveillance program that conducted counterintelligence on political organizations such as the Black Panther Party.
There is a US$2 million bounty for any information leading to her capture.
“Foerster gave his life. And his family has lived for the last 40 years with the knowledge that his murderer has been living with impunity in an island protected by that government,” Christie said. “It’s outrageous.”
The Republican governor urged the Trump administration to make Shakur’s return to the U.S. part of any change in Cuba policy. Christie had previously made a similar request to former President Barack Obama after U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations were restored.
“This is something that Secretary of State (Rex) Tillerson and others in the Trump administration should make a top priority, in any dealings they have with Cuba,” Christie said.
Tillerson has also suggested that Shakur’s return could become a foreign policy priority in dealings with Cuba. In an interview with the website Latin America Goes Global ahead of being confirmed as secretary of state, Tillerson described Shakur as a “fugitive,” saying, “I will engage bilaterally and multilaterally (with Raul Castro’s government) to bring these fugitives to justice.”
However, the Cuban government has repeatedly refused to extradite Shakur, which has long angered U.S. conservatives.