Daphne Caruana Galizia, an investigative journalist from Malta who was known for her reporting on governmental corruption, was killed in an explosion near her home Monday, officials say.
Galizia, who had just published a story on her blog, was driving away from the house in a rented Peugeot 108 around 3 p.m. when the car went up in flames, according to local media reports.
The explosion sent detritus far into the surrounding fields and badly burned the body. Photos showed the Peugeot’s mangled shell in a field, dozens of yards from the blast site. Witnesses described a small explosion followed seconds later by a larger one as the burning car skidded down the road and into the field.
“I am never going to 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,” Galizia's son, Matthew, wrote on Facebook the morning after his mother's death. “They stared at me. 'I’m sorry, there is nothing we can do', one of them said. I looked down and there were my mother’s body parts all around me. I realised they were right, it was hopeless.”
No suspects have been identified in the bombing, but the son said Tuesday that his mother was dead because of the incompetence and negligence of the Maltese government and police.
“My mother was assassinated because she stood between the rule of law and those who sought to violate it, like many strong journalists,” he said in a post on Facebook. “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.”
Nine journalists have been killed for their work this year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. If it is confirmed that Galizia was targeted, she would be the 10th, and the first in Europe, the CPJ said.
Her death has been widely condemned by officials and nongovernmental organizations across Europe and Malta, where Galizia's relentless focus on corruption, cronyism and political malfeasance had drawn wide attention.
Galizia spent much of her work in recent years reporting on the Panama Papers, the cache of records from a law firm in Panama that detailed offshoring activities of powerful officials and companies around the world. Her reporting on allegations about the wife of Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and a shell company in Panama had caused concern when Malta had assumed the rotating, six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union, the Guardian reported.
Galizia’s focus on cronyism was not accidental, she told Politico after it named her one of the 28 people most likely to shake up Europe in 2017.
“I can’t bear to see people like that rewarded,” she said.
Galizia started working as a journalist in the 1980s as a columnist with the Sunday Times of Malta, the newspaper reported. She later worked as an editor at the Malta Independent before writing a column.
Her blog, Running Commentary, was launched in 2008 and is one of the most popular websites on the island nation.
Traffic to her website sometimes swelled to 400,000 readers, nearly equal to the country’s population. Her last story was about court testimony that pertained to allegations about Muscat’s chief of staff. Other recent stories included a dispatch about what she described as an unlicensed zoo operated by a man she said was a friend of the prime minister and other prominent figures in Malta.
“Everyone knows Ms. Caruana Galizia was a harsh critic of mine, both politically and personally, but nobody can justify this barbaric act in any way,” Muscat said Monday on Maltese television, according to news reports.
This is a spiteful attack on a citizen and freedom of expression. I will not rest until justice is done. The country deserves justice -JM
— Joseph Muscat (@JosephMuscat_JM) October 16, 2017
U.S. officials confirmed Tuesday that the FBI is assisting Malta with the investigation.
But Galizia's son accused Muscat and other government officials of allowing a “culture of impunity” to flourish in Malta, which he said had turned into a “mafia state.”
“It is of little comfort for the Prime Minister of this country to say that he will 'not rest' until the perpetrators are found, when he heads a government that encouraged that same impunity,” wrote Matthew Caruana Galizia, an engineer and data journalist for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, according to his social media accounts.
He said that one of the police sergeants assigned to investigate his mother's killing had posted a flippant message on Facebook after her death.
“If the institutions were already working, there would be no assassination to investigate — and my brothers and I would still have a mother,” he wrote.
He later wrote that it was “untrue that my mother’s assassination was an attack on freedom of expression. It is untrue, because there was no freedom to begin with,” noting that his mother had been the subject of lawsuits meant to “financially cripple” her because of her work.
His mother had filed a report with Maltese police about receiving threats in the weeks before her death, according to reports.
“Daphne Caruana Galizia was a true investigative journalist,” said the deputy executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Robert Mahoney. “She did not shy from taking on the powerful in Malta’s political, business and criminal worlds.
“She probed the very authorities who are now charged with finding her killer or killers. For this reason, the investigation into her brutal murder must be beyond reproach. Anything less will send a terrible signal for journalists everywhere.”
Adrian Delia, the leader of Malta’s opposition Nationalist Party, said in a statement posted on Twitter: “This is the collapse of democracy and freedom of expression. We shall not be silenced.”
Great shock and sadness at the brutal murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. An appeal for a unified resolve to promote true democracy. RIP.
— Bishop CJ Scicluna (@BishopScicluna) October 16, 2017
What happened today is unacceptable in a free and democratic country like #Malta. A very sad day for our country.
— Partit Laburista (@PL_Malta) October 16, 2017
Galizia and husband Peter Caruana Galizia have three sons, including Andrew and Paul, according to the Malta Independent. The couple lived in Bidnija, a rural area on the island.
In a sign of Galizia’s far reach in the country, the duty magistrate assigned to start the inquiry in the case had previously taken her to court over a libel claim related to stories Galizia had written about her, Malta Today reported. Galizia’s family has requested that the chief justice ask the duty magistrate to abstain from the inquiry, the publication reported.
Thousands of mourners attended a vigil held Monday night; another demonstration followed Tuesday outside the courts in Valletta.
Devlin Barrett contributed to this report, which has been updated.