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Antonio Cubillo, leader of the Canaries independence movement

Activist was target of 1978 assassination attempt devised by state security forces

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Antonio Cubillo leaving the High Court after a hearing in August 1985

Throughout his entire life he fought for the independence of the Canary Islands. He did so with the same tenacity he displayed when he refused to use a wheelchair after suffering a brutal assault. The perennial leader of Canarian nationalism, Antonio Cubillo, died in Santa Cruz de Tenerife on Monday because of a circulatory complication, family members said.

On April 5, 1978 Cubillo was stabbed by two Spanish mercenaries in his home on Peking avenue, in Algiers. As a result of the attack he suffered irreversible spinal damage that obliged him to walk with crutches, which required a huge physical effort.

Cubillo always maintained that the Spanish Interior Ministry was behind the attempt on his life, with the connivance of German intelligence services.

The founder of the Movement for Self-Determination and Independence of the Canarian Archipelago (MPAIAC), Cubillo championed the "decolonization of the Canaries." It was this goal that provoked the assassination attempt, Cubillo said. He was preparing to speak at the UN on "the Canary Islands' colonial problem."

There is not one ruling that states MPAIAC is a terrorist organization"

In July 1990, the High Court sentenced José Luis Espinosa Pardo, a confidant of Roberto Conesa, implicated in political repression during the Franco regime, to 20 years for organizing the attempted murder of Cubillo. The court ruling considered it proven that "people belonging to the Spanish security services" were behind the attempt. They "acted from their desks and held a certain sway" over Espinosa, the magistrates said.

"When I went to take the lift two men dressed in black appeared," Cubillo recalled in a 2008 EL PAÍS interview. "One grabbed me from the front and another from behind. They stabbed me in the abdomen and disemboweled me. Then they stabbed me in the back, hitting my spinal cord. At that moment a neighbor arrived, a huge man two meters tall, who surprised my attackers when they were about to cut my head off."

Cubillo was born on Tenerife in 1930, was married and had three children. He propelled the independence movement from his lawyer's office. In 1961 he was jailed for six months for his activism with the Free Canaries Movement, which that year changed its name to the Movement for an Autonomous Canaries.

The following year he was accused of illegal propaganda and slander against Francisco Franco. He was never tried as he fled while out on bail.

In 1963 he moved to Algeria where he worked as a university lecturer on Maritime Law, a post he held for many years until he dedicated himself full time to politics. In 1964 he founded MPAIAC, which was recognized by the Liberation Committee of the Organization for African Unity (OUA) in 1968.

Algeria's backing in the OUA for Cubillo's theory of the African identity of the Canaries was a headache for the post-Franco Transition-era prime minister of Spain, Adolfo Suárez. From Algeria, Cubillo broadcast on the Voice of Free Canaries radio and directed a bombing campaign.

The first major attack came on November 1, 1976 outside a shopping mall in Las Palmas. Throughout two years of bomb attacks there was one fatality: bomb disposal expert Rafael Valdenebros Sotelo, who died while deactivating a device in La Laguna, Tenerife, in February 1978.

"There is not one ruling that states MPAIAC is a terrorist organization," Cubillo declared.

In August, 1985 he returned to Spain after 24 years in exile. Since then Cubillo had maintained a high public profile through conferences and articles, penned a hypothetical constitution for a free Canary Islands and was president of National Congress of the Canaries political party. He is to be buried on Thursday in Santa Cruz de Tenerife.