Former SLA Fugitive Could Be In US Custody Before Christmas

By | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

Johannesburg ( - Former Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) member James Kilgore could be out of South Africa before the end of the week - but says he hopes eventually to return.

The U.S. government last week formally requested Kilgore's extradition.

He was arrested on Nov. 8 at his home in Cape Town, where he worked as a researcher with a university-linked group researching labor issues, under the assumed name, Charles Pape.

Kilgore faces charges in a U.S. federal court related to possession of a pipe bomb and a passport offence, and in a California state court for first-degree murder arising from a 1975 bank robbery, and use of an unlicensed weapon in that crime.

Bank customer Myrna Opsahl was killed by a shotgun blast during the holdup of the Crocker National Bank in suburban Sacramento.

Twenty-seven years ago, the nondescript, balding academic was a member of the SLA, a radical organization best remembered for its kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patty Hearst, and whose motto was "Death to the fascist insect that preys on the life of the people."

Kilgore is believed to have entered South Africa in the early 1990s, moving from neighboring Zimbabwe.

He formally consented to his extradition to face criminal charges in the U.S. last week. This means all that is now required is a decision from South African justice ministry to surrender him.

Kilgore told the court through his lawyers that he intended to return to South Africa to continue "building a democratic society," once he had served his sentence.

"This is his intention at present, but a lot is still going to happen between now and his possible return," his attorney, Michael Evans, said by phone later.

"He's going to have to stand trial in two different courts in the States, and once those proceeding have run their course and whatever happens there, it's certainly an option for him to return to South Africa," Evans said. "He sees this as being a really important place where he's worked over the past number of years.

"He's played a big role in helping the poor and dispossessed in this country in relation to a whole range of matters, and he would like to return to complete that work, of helping build the New South Africa," he added.

Last week, a Cape Town magistrate issued an order under the Extradition Act that Kilgore be held in custody, pending a decision by the Justice Minister on his surrender to U.S. authorities.

Kilgore waived in writing his 15-day right to appeal against the committal order.

It's believed a deal has been offered to him similar to that offered four other SLA members who recently pleaded guilty in a California court to second-degree murder.

The four should be sentenced in February to between six and eight years in prison.

Shortly after his court appearance last week, Kilgore was given an opportunity to speak to the scores of friends and supporters who filled the public benches in the courthouse.

A relaxed looking Kilgore joked that his newfound prominence would make him more in demand as an author.

"I'll be in touch. I'm easy to contact - my diary is empty," he was quoted as saying.

Kilgore has a wife and children in Cape Town. It is unclear if they will be following him to the U.S.

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