Are we taking organised crime seriously enough?

One can only imagine the national reaction in Malta if a child is killed as a result of a bomb attack today, but sadly it is an eventuality we ought to be bracing ourselves for

3 November 2016, 8:37am
John Camilleri, 67, was killed by a car bomb in Bugibba earlier this week.
John Camilleri, 67, was killed by a car bomb in Bugibba earlier this week.
The bomb that exploded with fatal consequences at St Paul’s Bay this week, killing a 67-year-old businessman at the wheel of his car, shattered more than just the peace and quiet of an ordinary autumn afternoon. It also disturbed the widespread assumption that Malta is a relatively safe, crime free environment.

Naturally, it did not dispel this impression altogether. One bomb attack does not, in itself, change the fact that Malta does indeed enjoy one of the lowest national crime statistics anywhere in the developed world. Unfortunately, however, one cannot talk of this as an isolated turn of events. Joseph Camilleri, the businessman murdered last Monday, became the tenth target of a bomb attack in the past six years. There were three separate bombings this year alone, and no fewer than 16 over the last six years.

Among the most noteworthy is the incident that took place in September, in which 37-year-old Josef Cassar lost both legs when a bomb, that had been planted underneath his van, exploded on the busy Marsa road during the evening rush hour. Given the time and place of this particular explosion, it is little short of incredible that no one else was injured or killed.  

Likewise, no one was injured when an explosive device detonated at a boathouse in Armier, belonging to a 38-year-old man from Attard, last March.

But in January, Martin Cachia, 56, was killed when a bomb destroyed the car he was driving. Cachia had a pending court case in connection with human trafficking and was involved in a number of court cases in connection with drugs, contraband cigarettes and human smuggling.

Cachia, who was also a registered fisherman, has been investigated in connection with smuggling fuel from Libya. As far as is publicly known, it was never concluded whether Cachia had been carrying the bomb himself, or whether it had been planted in his car by third parties.

In July last year, a bomb was placed outside the Toyota Showroom in Haz-Zebbug. While no one was injured in the blast, the bomb caused damage to the old showroom. Witnesses said that the explosion sounded like a petard – however police sources excluded that pyrotechnic materials had been used.

In 2014, restaurant owner Darren Degabriele was also killed by a bomb that had been placed underneath the car he was driving. Degabriele, apart from owning a Marsaxlokk restaurant, was the owner of Degabriele Fuels and operated a boat which made frequent trips to Misurata, Libya.

Even if we add all these worrying statistics to the picture, Malta remains statistically one of the safest places in the world to live. All the same, we seem to be witnessing the onset of new and notoriously problematic patterns of crime in the last decade. 

Whether the above attacks were related or not – orchestrated by the same groups, or motivated by the same interests – is a question that only investigators can possibly answer. From a superficial analysis it seems unlikely. While some of the bomb attacks (including the one in St Paul’s Bay this week) bear all the hallmarks of organised crime, others fall into the more recognisable, ‘homegrown’  variety of explosives... those made from pyrotechnic materials... suggesting local perpetrators.

Nonetheless, the frequency with which such crimes have occurred strongly suggests that a Mafia-style culture has seeped into the country, and is quite possibly here to stay. From this perspective, one must question whether the law and enforcement capability has evolved in step with this changing crime scenario.  

At a glance, it is debatable whether the entire country – including the media – is taking the issue with the seriousness it deserves. In a sense, we have so far been ‘lucky’... for want of a better word. Victims and casualties alike have been limited (as far as can be determined) to the intended targets. This is of small comfort to the victims themselves, or their families; but we must also consider how much worse things could be in the entirely plausible scenario where innocent, uninvolved passers-by are also killed or maimed.

Such, inevitably, is the risk associated with a culture of bomb attacks. We didn’t need newfangled possible Mafia connections to illustrate this: a cursory glance at our own, entirely home-grown culture of political violence should suffice. Among the innocent victims of a cowardly bomb attack was 13-year-old Karin Grech in 1979... killed by a letter-bomb intended for another recipient (her father). 

One can only imagine the national reaction, if a child is similarly killed as a result of a bomb attack today. Apart from the immediate tragedy in itself – the death of a child, or anyone else for that matter – the effect of such a calamity would also be to rob Maltese society as a whole of its collective peace of mind. Sadly, given the worrying spate of such crimes in recent years, it is also an eventuality we ought to be bracing ourselves for.

It is for this and many other reasons that combating organised crime has to be a top national priority. There is the well-being of the country as a whole at stake.