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Anti-Castro exile accused of 1976 plane explosion dies at 90

HAVANA (Reuters) - Militant anti-Castro Cuban exile and former CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles, accused of masterminding the explosion of a Cuban airliner 40 years ago, died early on Wednesday in Florida at the age of 90, his attorney’s office said.

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Posada Carriles was considered a hero by some Cuban exiles for his attempts to topple Fidel Castro’s government following the 1959 revolution, while Communist-run Cuba called him a terrorist unjustly given haven by the United States.

He died in a U.S. veterans nursing home, 1-1/2 years after his arch-nemesis Castro died at the same age, his lawyer Arturo Hernandez said.

Posada Carriles had had surgery to remove cancerous nodules in his throat during that time, Hernandez said. He was also injured in a car accident.

“The biggest terrorist of this hemisphere died without paying his debts to justice or reparations to the victims,” wrote Sergio Alejandro Gomez, the international editor of Granma, the official newspaper of Cuba’s Communist Party, on Facebook.

“He died in ...the United States, the country that trained him to lay bombs and attack the lives of hundreds of Cubans.”

For his generation of Cubans who went into exile as Castro turned their island into a one-party communist state and expropriated their businesses, Posada Carriles was an iconic figure, said Hernandez.

“He was a patriot,” he said. “The priority he had in his life was bringing freedom to Cuba.”

Posada Carriles’ death is a painful reminder in Cuba of the 1976 plane crash that killed 73 people, as the country mourns the 111 who died last Friday in one of its worst air disasters ever.

Cuba has accused the United States of double standards in its war on terrorism for failing to make Posada Carriles face justice.

Trained by the CIA for its disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion to oust Castro in 1961, Posada Carriles was jailed in Venezuela for the 1976 Cuban airliner bombing but escaped in 1985.

Cuba also accused Posada Carriles of planning a wave of bomb blasts in Havana hotels in 1997 that killed an Italian tourist and of plotting to blow up Castro during a presidential summit in Panama in 2000.

“The death of Luis Posada Carriles ends the final chapter of the long saga of Cuban American terrorism — terrorism that targeted not just Cuba but also Cuban Americans advocating reconciliation,” said William LeoGrande, an American University professor of government and co-author of a book on secret U.S.-Cuba talks that led to detente under former U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuba’s Raoul Castro.

“Groups like Omega 7 and Alpha 66 set off more bombs in Miami than they did in Havana,” LeoGrande said, referring to militant anti-Castro groups.

Additional Reporting by Nelson Acosta in Havana; Editing by Dan Grebler