Joseph Muscat says news of car-bomb attack in Msida 'left him trembling'

Prime Minister accuses opposition of trying to politicise car bombing incidents for political gain

“I was trembling with worry upon hearing the news of the car bomb explosion in Msida, especially since I had just driven through that same spot only 15 minutes earlier,” Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said of his reaction to news of the bombing which left 40-year-old Romeo Bone in criticial condition, having lost both legs, and six other bystanders suffering from slight injuries and shock.

Muscat, who was speaking in parliament on Monday evening following an official statement by Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela, who said the cabinet of ministers would be discussing this last car bombing incident in Tuesday’s scheduled meeting.

“The government is not dismissing its responsibility to the security of our country,” he said. “But let us realise that this is not a normal situation and these are not normal incidents.”

Muscat said some members of the opposition were attempting to politicise this situation, something that had never been done in previous legislatures.

“Let us not forget that under the previous government, we had foreign agents coming to Malta, shooting at people in broad daylight on the Sliema front, and making a getaway on a speedboat,” he said, obviously referring to the 1995 assassination of Fathi Shqaqi, co-founder and Secretary-General of the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine.

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil said that people were worried about their security, with five incidents of car bombs in the past 12 months, but even more so now that it became apparent these car bombs could – and did – leave innocent bystanders injured or worse.

“Organised crime is present in Malta, as evidenced by these car bombs, and it is obvious the government is not doing enough to counter it,” he said. “Either that, or else the government has tried, but failed.”

Busuttil said there existed a lack of confidence in the police force, especially with a police commissioner who was more intent on expressing his support for the government than for doing his job.

There is also a lack of competence within the police corps, because many experienced and capable officers had left the force, not able to stand the situation they had found themselves in.

“It is not enough for the minister to come here and tell us he was shocked,” he said. “Your job is to ensure these things do not happen in the first place.”

The opposition leader reiterated his call to have the police commissioner elected by a two-thirds majority in Parliament as a first step towards restablishing confidence in the police force.

He also reminded the government that Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi, in November 2016, had recommended the setting up of a palriamentary committee for security.

Shadow home affairs minister Beppe Fenech Adami said that the opposition had warned Minister Abela in a previous discussion in Parliament that future car bombing incidents could include innocent bystanders.

“In today’s car bomb, we were proven right, as these criminals showed they are prepared to be indiscriminate in their execution of the crimes,” he said. “At last count, there were seven innocent bystanders injured in the explosion this morning.”

Fenech Adami asked the minister to explain what measures the police force had implemented in the past 12 months, following the first car bomb incident, to investigate and counter this new threat.

Shadow justice minister Jason Azzopardi asked the minister whether the police could tie this organised crime to a particular criminaly activity, such as drug trafficking, and if there were any persons out on bail who were being investigated for complicity or involvement in previous car bombings.

“Can the minister tell us how many people were interrogated during the investigations into the previous car bombing incidents in the past 12 months?” he aisked. “And can he say whether the fact that 389 members of the police force have left the corps since the last election, has affected the capabilities and functions of the corps?”

Azzopardi asked Abela whether he was concerned with the lack of performance of police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar, especially considering he now had less duties following the appointment of a chief executive officer to look after the administration.

Censu Galea asked Abela whether the cabinet of ministers had discussed the threat posed by car bombs in the past 12 months.

Paula Mifsud Bonnici noted that the public was left increasingly angry and frustrated after traffic ground to a standstill following the explosion in Msida.

“It is very worrying to note that many comments on social media remarked on the lack of police presence on the streets following the explosion,” she said.

Responding to the opposition’s comments and questions, Abela said that any lack of confidence in the police force was due to the opposition’s incessant and unwarranted criticism of the corps.

As to the recommendation that the police commissioner be elected by a two-thirds majority vote in Parliament, he said that the opposition failed to realise that even the unions representing police members were against this proposal.

“The number of policemen that left the force in the past four years is consistent with the numbers of previous years and is monstly due to people profiting from the corps’ retirement scheme,” Abela said.

He called on the opposition to be more mature in its statements, as it would not gain any political ground by trying to politicise incidents such as Monday’s car bombing.