Arsonists struck at the home of newspaper columnist Daphne Caruana Galizia early yesterday morning, as they set ablaze tyres piled up against a back door in an attack she described as "part of a systematic attempt at creating a reign of terror" by a fascist group.

Ms Caruana Galizia was at her Bidnija home with her husband and two of their sons at the time of the attack, but no one was injured. The alarm was raised when their third son returned home after the other family members had gone to bed and saw the flames.

Ms Caruana Galizia, a columnist for The Malta Independent, said she believed this had been an attempt to burn down the entire house.

The fire at the columnist's home is the latest in a series of attacks against people who have spoken out in favour of a humane treatment of illegal immigrants.

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi was quick to condemn "these acts of intimidation" yesterday, in the name of the government and the people, especially, he said, if they were instigated by racist attitudes.

It is believed that the arsonists started the blaze at about 3 a.m., setting fire to five petrol-backed car tyres.

Ms Caruana Galizia said in a statement that the burning tyres were concentrated against a glass back door which, being made of a fire-retardant material, withstood the fire until it was brought under control by the family.

She said that the arsonists must have approached the house through the valley behind the house, climbing over several terraced fields.

"These persons planned their attack for Friday night on the understanding that we would all be out and there would be nobody in to control the fire. My husband and I, and our two youngest sons, aged 18 and 17, were out, but very unusually, our eldest son, aged 20, decided to stay at home to work on a project for which he had a deadline.

"My husband and I returned home at 1.30 a.m., and found our eldest son still working. Our bedroom lights are clearly visible from the valley, where these people were waiting. We put out our light at 2 a.m. and our son put out his light at 2.30 a.m.

"Just before 3 a.m., we were woken by our youngest son, Paul, shouting that the back of the house was on fire. While my husband rushed for the garden-hose, Paul grabbed a shovel and began to throw earth onto the flames. Between them they put the fire out. Meanwhile, I moved the carpets and furniture away from the doors to create a non-flammable space, and phoned the police," she said.

While stating that she believed that this had been an attack by the nascent fascist movement she added: "Few seem alert to the fact that fascists and neo-Nazis can organise themselves to commit violence so as to silence those who stand firm against fascism.

"It is not immigration that threatens our culture now, but nascent fascism and neo-Nazism - with the violence and intimidation that are associated with those political creeds - among the Maltese."

Yesterday's was the second involving a journalist. Earlier this month, the front door of MaltaToday editor Saviour Balzan's Naxxar home was torched.

In previous weeks, cars belonging to the Jesuit community of St Aloysius' College, Birkirkara, were destroyed by arsonists, as were cars and doors of people connected to the Jesuit Refugee Service.

The Prime Minister said the police would be fully committed to find the perpetrators and called on anyone who knew anything to come forward.

He reaffirmed that the government was "completely committed towards building a society based on respect towards every person and his/her rights, tolerance and solidarity."

The Labour Party, through Home Affairs spokesman Gavin Gulia, also condemned the attack and the spate of vandalism inspired by racist feelings.

Alternattiva Demokratika chairman Harry Vassallo described the attack as an act of terrorism. "If the press is not free, none of us are free... There can be no tolerance of intolerance without dire consequences for us all," Dr Vassallo said.

The Chamber of Advocates also condemned the attack on the home of Ms Caruana Galizia and her lawyer husband, Peter.

The Institute of Maltese Journalists said the attack would not silence journalists. On the contrary, it would strengthen their determination to carry on reporting. It also called on police to do everything they could to solve the crime.

However, the newly formed Journalists' Committee expressed regret that the police investigations had not yet led to any charges being brought against anyone.

The committee said it would be presenting a letter to the Prime Minister at Auberge de Castille at noon today calling for the protection of journalists.

During a press conference on Thursday, Police Commissioner John Rizzo said that investigations into the spate of arson attacks had reached a "delicate stage".

Magistrate Michael Mallia carried out an inquiry into yesterday's attack and appointed several experts to assist him.