Daphne Caruana Galizia, a Maltese investigative journalist who exposed her island nation’s links with the so-called Panama Papers, died when a bomb destroyed her car. (Malta Independent via AP)

The first attack came in 1995, when Daphne Caruana Galizia’s front door was doused with fuel and set ablaze. She told her three children that the fire had simply been caused by candles, left outside for too long. Privately, she believed that she was targeted for retaliation. Her collie was killed soon after, left in front of her home with a slit throat.

A reform-minded political columnist, Mrs. Caruana Galizia had written an editorial for the Sunday Times of Malta, her country’s largest newspaper, calling for the commander of Malta’s armed forces to resign because his children had been linked to drug trafficking.

Fearing for her family’s safety, she took her own children out of school and for several weeks stayed away from her home in Bidnija, a small town in the hills of one of Europe’s smallest countries.

Nothing more came of the story. But in 2006, shortly after she published an article critical of neo-Nazi groups in Malta, a stack of tires was arranged behind her house and set on fire. “My brother happened to be coming home at night and noticed the fire,” her son, Matthew Caruana Galizia, said in a phone interview. “If he hadn’t noticed, we probably would have been burned alive.”

Mrs. Caruana Galizia, who faced what her family described as an escalating series of retaliatory attacks for her independent reporting on Maltese politics, died Oct. 16 after her Peugeot 108 exploded near her home in Bidnija. She was 53.

Forensic experts walk in a field after a powerful bomb blew up a car and killed Mrs. Caruana Galizia. (Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters)

Malta police are investigating the case with assistance from the FBI, as requested by Malta's prime minister, Joseph Muscat. If Mrs. Caruana Galizia is found to have been targeted, she will be the 28th journalist killed for her work this year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Mrs. Caruana Galizia was in some ways an unassuming muckraker. Though she established herself early in her career as a scorching political commentator, since 2004 she had run Taste & Flair, a lifestyle magazine published by the Malta Independent newspaper.

Writing and editing the magazine's stories, mainly about Maltese cuisine, was her day job. In her free time, she posted articles to a blog called Running Commentary, a website that made her Malta's most prominent investigative reporter and, as Politico wrote in one recent profile, "a one-woman WikiLeaks."

On some days, the site drew more than 400,000 readers, a figure that dwarfed the audience of Malta's main newspapers and nearly equaled the country's population. Her posts ranged from commentary on the country's "19th-century" treatment of women to more salacious items, including a report that a Maltese government minister was seen in a German brothel. The minister denied the story and in February received a warrant to freeze Mrs. Caruana Galizia's bank accounts.

Her recent work was fueled by the Panama Papers, a 2016 leak of more than 11 million documents that linked government officials around the world to secretive offshore shell companies. Mrs. Caruana Galizia's work occurred independently of the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative effort led by the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), in partnership with the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and more than 100 other media organizations. (Her son Matthew is a software developer and data journalist with ICIJ.)

In blog posts based on documents from the Panama Papers, she tied Muscat’s government — including his wife, chief of staff and energy minister — to several shell companies. She alleged that officials had been receiving illicit payments funneled by the government of Azerbaijan, a former Soviet satellite state.

Officials denied the charges, and Mrs. Caruana Galizia soon faced a deluge of libel threats and suits. In addition, her bull terrier was poisoned and nearly killed earlier this year, Matthew Caruana Galizia said, and one of her younger sons, a Maltese diplomat, was recalled from his post in New Delhi without explanation. Before her death, Matthew said, his mother had planned to sue the government, arguing that the diplomatic ouster was intended as retaliation for her reporting.

“Everyone knows Caruana Galizia was a harsh critic of mine, both politically and personally, but nobody can justify this barbaric act in any way,” Muscat said after Mrs. Caruana Galizia’s death.

Malta’s government had been in a state of near-disarray since Mrs. Caruana Galizia began publishing her allegations, with Muscat holding snap elections in June in an attempt to solidify his four-year hold on power. Shortly before the election, Ken Mifsud Bonnici, an adviser to the European Commission, wrote that Malta was facing “a veritable collapse of the rule of law.”

In a Facebook post Tuesday, Matthew Caruana Galizia wrote that his mother "was assassinated because she stood between the rule of law and those who sought to violate it, like many strong journalists." He blamed the "incompetence and negligence" of the police and government for her death.

“This is what happens when the institutions of the state are incapacitated,” he continued: “The last person left standing is often a journalist. Which makes her the first person left dead.”

Daphne Anne Vella was born in the resort town of Sliema on Aug. 26, 1964. Her father owned a business that imported and installed elevators, and her mother was a homemaker. She married Peter Caruana Galizia in 1985.

Mrs. Caruana Galizia joined the Times of Malta two years later, working as a reporter and then a columnist before moving to the Malta Independent as an associate editor in 1992. As a columnist, she developed a flair for fiery, opinionated writing that carried over to her blog.

In 1997, she received a bachelor’s degree in archaeology from the University of Malta.

In addition to her husband, survivors include their three sons and her mother and father.

Mrs. Caruana Galizia’s last post, published a half-hour before her death, described her increasing frustration over a lack of accountability for government corruption. In a court hearing that morning, the prime minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, said he had not been able to respond to accusations of corruption because of a “medical condition.”

"There are crooks everywhere you look now," she wrote. "The situation is desperate."