The son of an investigative journalist killed in a car bomb attack in Malta has hit out bitterly at the island's "culture of impunity" and the "crooks" in charge.
Daphne Caruana Galizia, 53, who led the Panama Papers investigation into corruption in Malta, died in an explosion shortly after she left her home in Bidnija, near Mosta, on Monday, the Guardian reported.
Her car, a Peugeot 108, was destroyed by an explosive device so powerful that it scattered large pieces of the car around a nearby field.
“My mother was assassinated because she stood between the rule of law and those who sought to violate it,” Matthew Caruana Galizia wrote in a Facebook post.
“But she was also targeted because she was the only person doing so. This is what happens when the institutions of the state are incapacitated: the last person left standing is often a journalist. Which makes her the first person left dead.”
Several thousand people gathered at an impromptu candlelit vigil in Sliema, near the island’s capital Valletta, on Monday night to mourn the journalist, described as a “one-woman WikiLeaks” whose blogs were as fiercely critical of the island’s politicians as they were of its organised crime gangs.
The slain journalist’s son said he would never forget “running around the inferno in the field, trying to figure out a way to open the door, the horn of the car still blaring, screaming at two policemen who turned up with a single fire extinguisher to use it”.
Caruana Galizia, 53, ran a hugely-popular blog highlighting cases of alleged high-level corruption among politicians across Malta’s party lines.
“There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate,” she wrote in a post published barely half an hour before the bomb exploded.
Witnesses told police the journalist had just left her home and was on a road near the village of Bidnija in northern Malta when the bomb detonated.
The local media reported she had filed a complaint to the police two weeks ago to say she had received threats.
Caruana Galizia’s most recent revelations pointed the finger at Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and two of his closest aides, connecting offshore companies linked to the three men with the sale of Maltese passports and payments from the government of Azerbaijan.
Muscat denounced the journalist’s killing, calling it a “barbaric attack on press freedom”, and announced that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation had agreed to send a team of experts to help local police investigate.
European politicians expressed shock and dismay at her death. “A dark day for democracy,” tweeted Manfred Weber, a leading conservative MEP.
European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans tweeted that he was “shocked and outraged”.
Over the last two years, the slain journalist’s reporting had largely focused on revelations from the Panama Papers, a cache of 11.5 million documents leaked from the internal database of the world’s fourth largest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca.
Her posts often attracted more readers than the combined circulation of the country’s newspapers, Caruana Galizia was recently described by the American news outlet Politico as a “one-woman WikiLeaks”.
No group or individual claimed responsibility for the attack, the Guardian reported.
Malta’s President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, called for calm. “In these moments, when the country is shocked by such a vicious attack, I call on everyone to measure their words, to not pass judgement and to show solidarity.”
“Everyone knows Caruana Galizia was a harsh critic of mine,” said Muscat, adding “Both politically and personally, but nobody can justify this barbaric act in any way.”
He announced in parliament later on Monday that Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officers were on their way to Malta to assist with the investigation, following his request for help from the US government.
The journalist posted her final blog on her Running Commentary website at 2.35 p.m. on Monday, and the explosion, which occurred near her home, was reported to police just after 3 p.m. (IANS)