For the first time, the FBI has added a woman to its "Most Wanted Terrorists" list. There are a number of caveats that temper that benchmark, including that Joanne Chesimard's crime is probably not the sort of terrorism that you might assume.
On May 2, 1973, Chesimard and two others were driving through New Jersey when two state troopers pulled them over because of a broken tail light. There was a gunfight. A police officer and one of the men in Chesimard's car were killed; Chesimard and the other trooper were injured. After a brief chase, Chesimard was caught. In 1977, she was convicted of murder — and two years later, escaped from prison.
And with that, the first woman — an African-American from Queens — and the second domestic terrorist are added to the FBI's list of the most wanted terrorists in the world. Chesimard joins a group of 31 others. One, the other domestic terrorist, is an animal rights activist convicted of planting explosives in San Francisco. The other thirty are wanted for crimes like bombing U.S. embassies and working with Al Qaeda. Like the American Jihadi, Omar Hammami. Or Ayman Al-Zawahiri. Al-Zawahiri, the head of Al Qaeda, and Chesimard are among the FBI's most wanted terrorists. After all, the "Most Wanted Terrorists" list was created in October 2001, in an effort to capture 22 terrorists that were still at large from previous terror attacks. Osama bin Laden was included in that list — for the 1998 bombings of embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, not for the September 11 attacks.
The FBI explains why Chesimard deserves to be in such notable company in a video it released along with its announcement today. As we noted last month, the highest number of acts of terror occurred in the United States during the early 1970s. Chesimard's involvement with the Black Liberation Army, a group that engaged in terroristic acts, led to her inclusion.
The FBI's press release is direct:
“This crime was always considered an act of domestic terrorism,” said Rinaldi, who has been working the case for six years with other members of the JTTF. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he explained, the Black Liberation Army was a “radical left wing terror group that felt justified killing law enforcement officers. Throughout the ‘70s,” [New Jersey State Police Lieutenant Mike] Rinaldi added, “this group conducted assaults on police stations and murdered police officers.”
Chesimard's inclusion on the Most Wanted Terrorists list is less about the urgency of her capture than it is with the date. As you may have noticed, today is the 40th anniversary of the murder of that New Jersey state trooper. Besides, the FBI is pretty sure it knows where Chesimard is. In 1984, she moved to Cuba; since, the country has granted her asylum.
Regardless, if you've seen her, please contact your local FBI office. Same goes for Al-Zawahiri.