The Ivorian man murdered earlier this month had most probably been walking home after offering food and support to migrants at the Ħal Far centre when he was shot.
Lassana Cisse, 42, often checked in on his fellow countrymen at the open centre after work, trying to ensure they were doing well in a new country.
Members of the migrant community told The Sunday Times of Malta that he was probably returning home on foot from one such visit when he was killed on Triq tal-Ġebel in Birżebbuġa on April 6.
The incident came just two months after a 17-year-old migrant from Chad was hit by a car and left unconscious by the side of the same road.
Migrants who live in the area and elsewhere in Malta have since been living in fear, with Mr Cisse’s flatmates now barely sleeping at night.
Two teams investigate case
The “deafening silence” from the police had exacerbated the sense of helplessness among migrants, they said.
Police sources said they had not been vocal on the matter because they are concerned about the possibility of prompting racially motivated copycat murders. Investigations, however, are ongoing. Patrols and police surveillance around migrant hotspots had also been increased in a bid to deter any other violent acts.
Investigators said that while they could not say with certainty that Mr Cisse had been the victim of a racial hate crime, this was looking increasingly possible.
They said that the two teams of officers appointed to investigate the case were looking into a number of leads as well as into the victim’s background to try and establish any possible motives for the killing.
So far, there was no indication he had been involved in any criminal or dangerous activities. The less likely a criminal or other possible explanation for the murder became, the more the police were leaning towards the racial implications of the killing, the sources said.
The situation could get worse – quickly
The possibility of the crime being racially motivated was described as being doubly worrying for police, because not only could this encourage copycats but it could also spark a violent response from the migrant community.
“If the motive is purely racial, then this would be a very worrying escalation. We truly hope this is not the case, because if so, the situation could get worse – quickly,” a senior officer said.
In cold blood
Meanwhile, those who knew Mr Cisse in Malta say killing must have come in cold blood.
“Lassana’s murder was sudden, and just as quickly everyone seems to have forgotten about it – the police, the media and society. This has only increased fear in migrants who are scared that they could be next,” a man close to the migrant community told The Sunday Times of Malta.
He said asylum seekers who arrived in Malta some years ago would often drop by at the Ħal Far open centre to check on other migrants, especially during the first days of their stay there.
Some provided fruit and vegetables that they knew their countrymen were familiar with while others lent out their mobile phones for the newly arrived to contact their relatives back home.
Migrants have told The Sunday Times of Malta that the lack of police knowledge and action over black people being pelted with rocks, taunted and threatened or even hit by cars in the area had seen several avoid the road where Mr Cisse was shot dead.
The drive-by shooting left two others wounded. They have since been released from hospital.
The police have finally identified the pair – a 22-year-old from Guinea and a 28-year-old from Gambia. They both live in Birżebbuġa. Police had initially said they were a 22-year-old who lives in Ħal Far and a 45-year-old from Georgia.
The three victims were found spread out across the country lane. While Mr Cisse was heading south towards his home in Birżebbuġa the other two were walking north together towards Ħal Far.
The police believe the shooter was riding in a white Toyota Starlet and had said they were investigating CCTV footage.