Car bomb kills Malta's best-known investigative journalist

Daphne Caruana Galizia, Malta's best-known investigative journalist, was killed Monday when a powerful bomb blew up her car, police said, in a case that stunned the small Mediterranean island.

Daphne Caruana Galizia, 53, reported on political corruption in the Mediterranean island

Forensic experts work after a powerful bomb blew up a car, killing investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Bidnija, Malta, on Monday. (Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters)

Daphne Caruana Galizia, Malta's best-known investigative journalist, was killed on Monday when a powerful bomb blew up her car, police said, in a case that stunned the small Mediterranean island.

Caruana Galizia, 53, ran a hugely popular blog, Running Commentary, in which she relentlessly highlighted cases of alleged high-level corruption targeting politicians from across party lines.

"There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate," she wrote in a blog published on her site just half an hour before an explosion tore into her car.

Locals said Caruana Galizia had just left her house and was on a road near the village of Bidnija in northern Malta when the bomb detonated, sending her car flying into an adjacent field.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who faced accusations of wrongdoing by Caruana Galizia earlier this year, denounced her killing, calling it a "barbaric attack on press freedom."

He announced that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation had agreed to help local police investigate the killing and was flying experts to the island as soon as possible.

"I will not rest until I see justice done in this case," he said in a statement, calling for national unity.

Candlelight vigil

Around 3,000 people held a silent, candlelight vigil on Tuesday evening in Sliema, just outside Valletta.

Malta has a population of 400,000 and is the European Union's smallest state.

People walk in a silent candlelight vigil to protest against the killing of Caruana Galizia in a car bomb attack, in St Julian's, Malta, on Monday. (Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters)

"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. "The only remedy for anyone who felt slandered was through the courts."

Muscat sued Caruana Galizia after she wrote blog posts earlier this year saying his wife was the beneficial owner of a company in Panama, and that large sums of money had been moved between the company and bank accounts in Azerbaijan.

Both Muscat and his wife denied the accusations.

Looking for a vote of confidence to counter the allegations, Muscat called snap elections in June which he easily won. Recently, Caruana Galizia's outspoken blog had turned its fire on opposition politicians.

Malta Television reported that Caruana Galizia had filed a complaint to the police two weeks ago to say she had received threats. It gave no further information.

'A dark day for democracy'

Opposition leader Adrian Delia said the blogger was the victim of a "political murder."

"Caruana Galizia revealed the Panama Papers and was the government's strongest critic," he said, calling for an independent probe of her killing.

"We will not accept an investigation by the commissioner of police, the army commander or the duty magistrate, all of whom were at the heart of criticism by Caruana Galizia," he said.

European politicians expressed dismay at her death.

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani in a tweet called the development a "tragic example of a journalist who sacrificed her life to search for the truth."

"A dark day for democracy," tweeted Manfred Weber, head of the conservative bloc in the European Parliament.

Caruana Galizia ran a hugely popular blog in Malta and, according to opposition leader Adrian Delia, was the government's strongest critic. (Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters)

"Daphne played a vitally important role in unearthing serious allegations of money laundering and corruption in Malta, including those involving senior figures in the Maltese government," said Sven Giegold, a Greens member in the European Parliament.

Malta 'afflicted' with corruption

Caruana Galizia took aim at politicians and senior officials from across Malta, seeing the island as a hotbed of corruption.

"Malta's public life is afflicted with dangerously unstable men with no principles or scruples," she wrote last year.

The slain journalist had been a regular columnist for the Malta Independent, writing twice weekly for the newspaper since 1996.

Her family asked that the magistrate assigned to investigate the case, Consuelo Scerri Herrera, be substituted because of an alleged conflict of interest, court documents showed. Herrera had sought libel damages after Caruana Galizia attacked her in her blog.

Caruana Galizia is survived by her husband and three sons. One son, Matthew, was on the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists team that won the Pulitzer Prize for its work on the Panama Papers scandal.