Anti-corruption blogger killed by huge bomb in Malta

VALLETTA, Oct 16 (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 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.

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Journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia killed in Malta car bomb
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Journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia killed in Malta car bomb
Forensic experts walk in a field after a powerful bomb blew up a car (Foreground) and killed investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Bidnija, Malta, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia poses outside the Libyan Embassy in Valletta April 6, 2011. Investigative journalist Caruana Galizia was killed after a powerful bomb blew up a car killing her in Bidnija, Malta, in October 16, 2017. Picture taken April 6, 2011. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
Forensic experts walk in a field after a powerful bomb blew up a car (Foreground) and killed investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Bidnija, Malta, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
A letter to investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, assassinated in a car bomb attack on Monday, is seen on the Love monument during a silent candlelight vigil to protest against her murder, in St Julian's, Malta, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
A forensics expert walks in a field after a powerful bomb blew up a car (Rear) killing investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Bidnija, Malta, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH A white sheet covers the body of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia after a powerful bomb blew up a car (R), killing her in Bidnija, Malta, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi TEMPLATE OUT.
Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia poses outside the Libyan Embassy in Valletta April 6, 2011. Investigative journalist Caruana Galizia was killed after a powerful bomb blew up a car killing her in Bidnija, Malta, in October 16, 2017. Picture taken April 6, 2011. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
A woman places a candle on the Love monument during a silent candlelight vigil to protest against the assassination of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in a car bomb attack, in St Julian's, Malta, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
Police and forensics experts stand behind a road block after a powerful bomb blew up a car killing investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Bidnija, Malta, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
Police and forensics experts stand behind a road block after a powerful bomb blew up a car killing investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Bidnija, Malta, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
Forensic experts use lights as they look for evidence on a road near a field after a powerful bomb blew up a car and killed investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Bidnija, Malta, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
A policeman is seen near a field after a powerful bomb blew up a car (Rear) killing investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Bidnija in Bidnija, Malta, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
A man attends a silent candlelight vigil to protest against the assassination of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in a car bomb attack, in St Julian's, Malta, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
A man places a candle on the Love monument during a silent candlelight vigil to protest against the assassination of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in a car bomb attack, in St Julian's, Malta, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
A message reading 'when the people fear their government, there is tyranny, when the government fears the people, there is liberty (freedom' is seen on the pavement as thousands of people gather for a candlelight vigil in Sliema, on October 16, 2017, in tribute to late journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia who was killed by a car bomb close to her home in Bidnija, Malta. Daphne Caruana Galizia, a prominent Maltese journalist and blogger who made repeated and detailed corruption allegations against Prime Minister's inner circle, was killed by a car bomb on October 16, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Matthew Mirabelli / Malta OUT (Photo credit should read MATTHEW MIRABELLI/AFP/Getty Images)
Relatives of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and policemen walk past the wreckage of a car bomb believed to have killed Daphne Caruana Galizia close to her home in Bidnija, Malta, on October 16, 2017. The force of the blast broke her car into several pieces and catapulted the journalist's body into a nearby field, witnesses said. She leaves a husband and three sons. Caruana Galizia's death comes four months after Prime Minister Joseph Muscat's Labour Party won a resounding victory in a general election he called early as a result of scandals to which Caruana Galizia's allegations were central. / AFP PHOTO / STR / Malta OUT (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
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Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who faced accusations of wrong-doing 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 (FBI) 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.

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

The hashtag Je Suis Daphne circulated widely among social media users on the island of 400,000 people, the European Union's smallest state.

"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 blogs 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.

"POLITICAL MURDER"

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 a 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.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said he would offer a $23,578.00 reward for information leading to the conviction of Caruana Galizia's killers, and European politicians expressed dismay at her death.

(Daphne Caruana Galizia via Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters)

Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the European Commission, tweeted that he was "shocked and outraged", adding that "if journalists are silenced our freedom is lost".

Manfred Weber, head of the conservative bloc in the European Parliament, said the killing marked "a dark day for democracy".

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.

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.

(Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald in Brussels and Gavin Jones in Rome,; Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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