[WATCH] Bomb probably under the car, on the chassis - Anthony Abela Medici

Having previously led Malta’s forensic analysis laboratory for 30 years, Anthony Abela Medici says around 500g of semtex may have been used to kill Daphne Caruana Galizia and that he was surprised that a Dutch forensic team was brought in, and not the Italians, who are experts in explosives analysis

Interview from mediatoday on Vimeo.

The body of Daphne Caruana Galizia was left on the scene of the crime for around 30 hours. How judicious is this with regard to preserving evidence for forensic analysis?

It is one of the first instances, in my opinion, in which this occurred in Malta. It has always been the practice that if a person is definitely dead – and of course finding a body in several pieces leaves no doubt that they are dead – then it is best to secure the scene totally so that the evidence is not lost, and only then do you need to start securing the body.

It happens very often abroad, where they examine the body at the last moment. You start sweeping the area slowly until you clear a path that reaches the body. Now in this particular case, since foreign experts were also expected, they could also have requested that the body remain there. Many times in countries like the UK, they leave the body on the site until the full teams arrive to investigate, and when they do, they scan the area, and secure a path where no more evidence can be collected on that path.

What would the forensic experts be looking for on that path?

In the case of an explosion like this, you are looking first of all for traces of unexploded material. Until you identify the type of explosive used, you have to look for traces of any kind of explosive. You can also identify the force of the explosive, the size and depth of the crater caused by the explosion, and that will lead you to determine the strength of the explosion, which could in turn lead you to identify the type of explosive used. It is only after you’ve examined the area profusely, and taken swabs of samples found, that you will be able to determine 100 percent what explosive was used.

So you don’t always find traces of the explosive used?

No, you don’t always find traces. In the case of semtex, even if the explosive is gone, you’re still looking for trace material that arises from used, exploded, semtex, so that could also lead you to an identification of the material. 

In this particular case, the most logical explanation is that the bomb was placed under the car, because the car was actually blown up until it started tumbling down, and because the explosion left a crater on the road. From what I have seen, that crater is between 1.5m to 2m across and around half a metre deep, so it’s a massive crater.

Is it possible the bomb that killed Daphne Caruana Galizia was planted on the side of the road and not on the car?

I cannot exclude that but in that case, it would have been buried in the road, covered over and then triggered from a distance. This was the case with the bomb that killed Magistrate Giovanni Falcone in Italy; they buried a bomb and then waited for his car to come by before they triggered the bomb. Don’t forger that in those days, there were no mobile phones so that bomb was triggered by radio or wireless transmission. So this could be the case, but given the nature of other explosive devices we’ve had in the past year, it’s more likely that they used the same pattern.

Instant death: She would not have suffered. Because it’s not as if she were injured and in pain until passing out; the fact that she was blown into so many pieces means it was instantaneous

The most indicative explosion, next to that of Ms Caruana Galizia, was the one in Bugibba, where the explosive was actually placed under the seat and it blew the roof off the vehicle to a height of around three storeys.

In this case, the roof of the vehicle is still there, but it’s bloated on the passenger side. What would this indicate?

I’ve been asked if the explosive was placed under the passenger seat. In my opinion, it wasn’t. The force of the explosion was so great that the body was broken up into several pieces, so she must have taken the full force of the blast. Because of this, the explosive must have been directly under her. It could have been underneath her seat or underneath the car.

Most probably it was placed under the car on the chassis, because to place the bomb under the seat would require entry into the car, which would be of a greater risk to whoever placed it. It would also increase the probability of Ms Caruana Galizia noticing the forced entry into the vehicle and becoming suspicious. So whoever placed that explosive must have taken all these things into consideration. Therefore the most likely scenario is that the bomb was planted on the chassis on the car’s underside probably by means of a magnet.

With regard to the bloating of the roof, when an explosive device explodes, the blast follows the path of least resilience. Now, most of the blast in this case was absorbed by the driver seat and the body of Ms Caruana Galizia. The part of the blast that was not absorbed by the seat and her body, found the passenger seat empty so it would have escaped in that direction and then up towards the roof.

We are mentioning semtex, which is very difficult to obtain, especially in civilian circles, but which is probably the most commonly used explosive in this type of crime. It is also the explosive being mentioned most in this case. Why is that?

Semtex belongs to a class of explosives known as plastic explosives, which can be molded into any shape, like plasticine. And it takes a very small amount of material to cause tremendous damage. So it is the force of the semtex, coupled with the fact that you only need a very small amount – compared to pyrotechnics or commercial explosive as used in quarries, for example – that make it a very popular choice.

Looking at the photos from the scene of the crime – as an outsider in this case, as opposed to what you’ve done in the past, when you’ve been the man to call upon for 30 years – if it were semtex or C4 that was used, how much explosive would it have taken to cause the damage caused to the car, the body and the crater in the road?

I would say that around half a kilogramme of semtex was used, certainly nowhere close to the 2kg that were used by Egyptian soldiers to blow open the EgyptAir aircraft that had been hijacked and diverted to Malta on 24 November, 1985.

In this case, an eyewitness who was driving on the same road in Bidnija when Daphne Caruana Galizia’s car exploded, told us earlier this week that he actually heard two explosions; first one explosion, and then, seconds later, a second and larger explosion, and that was when he saw the car burst into flames. How would you explain this?

The man probably heard the explosion of the semtex. If the car was not in his sight initially and hidden behind an incline or depression, then the sound of the explosion could have been muffled by a rubble wall in the vicinity. But what he heard could also have been the explosion of the semtex, followed by the explosion of the fuel tank in the car, which would then have set the car alight.

In my opinion, one should always follow the evidence that is presented. So if this man said he heard two blasts, then most probably there were probably two blasts. But you then have to explain how those blasts occurred. It couldn’t have been the detonator being triggered, followed by the explosive, because that is practically instantaneous.

The Dutch surprise: I am surprised also that the Dutch were called in. In my opinion, I would have called in the Italians, and not their scientific analysis units, but their secret services

Another scenario is that there may have been two explosions because there were two explosive charges planted in the car. In which case, the first explosion would go and then the blast of the first explosion would detonate the second explosive. For the explosive to detonate you need an initial powerful charge, so a detonator could trigger the first explosive, but the blast would then trigger the second.

Many theories are being bandied about as to how the explosion was triggered. The most popular theory is that it was triggered through the use of a mobile phone.

That is very probable.

How does that work? Is the detonator connected to a mobile phone that triggers the detonation when it receives a call?

Yes, although a battery would still probably be used because the energy produced by the mobile phone is not enough to trigger the detonator. So you would have a switch, a battery, a detonator and loop-back back to the switch. When that switch is turned on by means of a telephone call, then power from the battery would trigger the detonator. It would be good if it were a mobile phone.

Why? Surely these would be burner phones on prepaid accounts that would have never been used before? Would you still be able to triangulate where the phone call was triggered from?

Yes, exactly. The triangulation would be very important. And that is probably why the American FBI were called in; because they are experts on triangulation technology for mobile phones. 

Besides the FBI, there is also a Dutch forensic team in Malta. What expertise would they provide that the Maltese units do not have? 

Both the prime minister and the police said that the FBI were here for their technical expertise, not the forensic analysis, which is very strange because the FBI has very strong forensic teams.

I am surprised also that the Dutch were called in. In my opinion, I would have called in the Italians, and not their scientific analysis units, but their secret services. Since the bombing of a train in the 1970s – what they call the Strage di Bologna – they have built a very strong team of explosives experts and a very good laboratory. 

The Italians were called to assist in the EgyptAir hijacking and they were also called to assist in the investigation into the Karin Grech bombing, where they managed to identify the triggering device used. The Italians also helped us investigate several cases of explosive devices used in 1984, when there were 24 bombing incidents using explosive devices in the last three months of the year alone. I have seen them working, I have visited their laboratories and they are very good.

Would Daphne Caruana Galizia have died instantly in this case?

Yes, yes, absolutely. That explosion would have been practically instantaneous and she wouldn’t have even known what happened. She would not have suffered. Because it’s not as if she were injured and in pain until passing out; the fact that she was blown into so many pieces means it was instantaneous.

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