Two people were killed and two others seriously wounded in a shooting attack in Tel Aviv just before 3 p.m. Friday. Five others were wounded — three in moderate condition and two with light injuries. As Friday night turned into Saturday, the killer was still on the loose, and a massive manhunt for him was continuing.
Israel knows the identity of the killer, and believes he was carrying out a “nationalistic terror” attack, security officials said Friday evening. But a relative, Sami Milhem, who has also served as the suspect’s lawyer, said later he was “not of sound mind,” and noted that his father is a police volunteer. The suspect was named Saturday night as Nashat Milhem.
Police sources said the gunman is an Arab from the village of Arara in the Wadi Ara area of northern Israel, aged 29, and that his father recognized him from security footage of the attack, and called the police. The father was being questioned by police late Friday.
The killer was acting out of “Islamist” motives, having been incited to violence, Channel 2 quoted security officials saying Friday evening.
The killer served a five-year jail term for attacking a soldier with a screwdriver and trying to grab his weapon in a 2007 incident.
Witnesses said some 15 shots were fired in the attack, apparently in semiautomatic bursts from a Carl Gustav submachine gun.
The two victims were named Friday evening as Alon Bakal and Shimon Raimi.
The shots were fired at locations near the city’s well-known Dizengoff Center Mall, an area that is crowded on Friday afternoons.
Eyewitnesses said the gunman fired into at least three establishments in the area — a bar, a restaurant and a cafe, and then fled. One of the cafe staffers said several people chased after him “but he disappeared” into a side-street.
Footage from the scene of the attack shows people sitting in a cafe and running for cover when the gunfire begins. The gunman can be seen coming into shot, as he sprays the street with his automatic weapon.
Another video shows the gunman walking along the street prior to the attack, and then emerging from a natural foods grocery store as he opens fire.
CCTV footage from the grocery store showed the gunman calmly buying nuts and dried fried moments before the attack, taking the murder weapon out of his backpack, stepping out of the store, turning to his left, and opening fire. Officials highlighted the extraordinary calm he appeared to display, in the seconds before he began his killing spree.
Police said a copy of the Koran was found in his backpack afterwards, Channel 2 reported.
The two fatalities were pronounced dead at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv.
Two of the injured were in intensive care there after surgery Friday night, and were still in serious condition, the hospital said.
One of the fatalities, Alon Bakal, 26, was the manager of the “Simta” bar, which was targeted in the attack. The other, Shimon Raimi, 30, was from Ofakim.
The three people who sustained moderate wounds were taken to Tel Hashomer Hospital in Ramat Gan, Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva and Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, according to the Magen David Adom rescue service. All were said to have improved late Friday.
A massive police manhunt was underway for the attacker, with roads around the attack site closed by police. Officers from the police special forces unit Yasam were seen scouring local neighborhoods in the aftermath of the attack. Tel Aviv residents also reported closures at the central bus station, on the other side of the city.
The initial investigation showed that it was impossible to determine whether the attack was nationalist or criminal in nature, and both avenues were being pursued. Investigators had been dispatched to hospitals to interview victims in an attempt to determine if there were any possible criminal motives for the attack.
The Shin Bet said it did not have any warning of an impending attack.
זירת הפיגוע ברחוב דיזנגוף בתל אביב. מצוד אחר היורה. תושבים נקראו לא לצאת מהבתים. הרקע למעשה עדיין נבדק. pic.twitter.com/1ovGtYSH8d
— הערוץ הראשון (@Channel1IBA) January 1, 2016
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai called on residents “to be alert,” saying “this looks like nationalist [terror], but it still isn’t clear” what the motive was.
Terrorism “attempts to frighten us and disrupt our lives. I urge everyone to take a deep breath, relax, and we will take care of this.”
Nati Shaked, one of the co-owners of the Simta Bar where the shooting began, told Army Radio he saw “someone armed with an automatic rifle just walking in the street. He saw a lot of people here who he could shoot at, and started to shoot.”
The attacker “shot everywhere. There was hysteria and chaos.”
— דוס מחמד ® (@bneibraki) January 1, 2016
Magen David Adom paramedic Shani Mizrachi said: “When I arrived at the scene I saw a huge commotion. Some of the injured were in the pub and some were lying in the road. I quickly ran to an approximately 35-year-old man who was fully conscious. I gave him life-saving treatment on site and sent him to Ichilov Hospital, while still treating him. He was in serious condition. In addition, we took two other seriously injured people to Ichilov Hospital and another moderately injured person to Tel Hashomer hospital.”
The attack comes amid more than three months of almost daily Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers. At least 25 Israelis have been killed, mostly in stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks. More than 130 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, most while carrying out attacks or attempted attacks, and others during violent clashes with security forces.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.