Israel has requested of the Palestinian Authority that it share any intelligence that could lead to the capture of the suspect in a fatal shooting attack in Tel Aviv on Friday, The Times of Israel learned Monday.
The appeal to the PA was made shortly after the fugitive suspect was identified as Nashat Milhem, and Israel has since been in contact with PA security officials, to whom it has conveyed the identity of the suspect and other details of the investigation.
Although officials suspect that Milhem, 29, of Arara, a village in northern Israel, may have fled to the West Bank, the search has mostly focused on Tel Aviv, specifically the north of the city.
The deadly attack took place outside the Simta bar on Tel Aviv’s busy Dizengoff Street on Friday. Shift manager Alon Bakal, 26, and patron Shimon Ruimi, 30, were killed in a hail of bullets as the gunman opened fire with a submachine gun, and seven people were wounded. Milhem went on to kill cab driver Amin Shaaban, a father of 11 from Lod, who was found shot to death in north Tel Aviv an hour after the attack.
Despite the ongoing search in Tel Aviv, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told Army Radio on Monday morning that there was “no reason to assume that the terrorist is in Gush Dan,” the Hebrew term for the Tel Aviv metropolitan area.
Erdan’s comments came as special police units painstakingly combed apartments in the city’s Ramat Aviv neighborhood belonging to customers who had received deliveries of vegetables from the local branch of a health food store where Milhem worked for several years. Police said they were considering the possibility that the suspected terrorist had commandeered an apartment and taken an elderly resident hostage, but that other avenues relating to Milhem’s escape route were also being probed. Authorities have warned he is armed, dangerous and capable of striking again.
A senior security source told Channel 2 Monday that the terrorist’s mobile phone, found by a citizen in the front yard of an apartment building on Ramat Aviv’s Reading Street on Friday, had not given the investigation any leads.
A second brother of Milhem was arrested Monday, three days after his brother Juadat was arrested Friday on suspicion of involvement in the crime.
According to Hebrew media reports based on police sources late Sunday, Milhem, who was jailed for five years for a 2007 attack on a soldier, fled the scene of the shooting on Dizengoff Street on foot and hailed Amin Shaaban’s cab on nearby Ibn Gabirol Street. The vehicle drove to north Tel Aviv, where Milhem worked. There, Milhem is alleged to have killed Shaaban outside the Mandarin Hotel.
He then drove the cab to Namir Road, where he abandoned it near a bus stop. Namir is a major north-south artery in north Tel Aviv, from which Milhem could have caught a public bus or other transportation out of the city.
Footage from a security camera released Saturday showed Milhem walking calmly along Dizengoff Street minutes before the attack.
The suspect’s father, Muhammad, a police volunteer, who recognized his son from video footage and called police, urged security forces on Saturday to detain the fugitive as soon as possible, fearing that he would strike again.
The father was questioned by police on Friday evening and again on Sunday, and computers and other items in the family home were seized by police as part of the investigation into the attack. One of the killer’s sisters was also questioned over the attack. The weapon used in the attack was reportedly stolen from his father’s safe at home.
Erdan, the public security minister, urged residents to stick to their routines on Monday. “There’s no reason to behave any differently from any other day,” he said, adding that security in Tel Aviv was at unprecedented levels.
Responding to reports that Tel Aviv parents were keeping their children home from school, Education Minister Naftali Bennett — who went on a night run around Tel Aviv Sunday evening to demonstrate a refusal to capitulate to terror — told Army Radio on Monday, “I expect and want to see as many children as possible going to school, going back to their routine.”
He noted that the bulk of terror attacks of recent weeks were centered on Hebron and the Etzion Bloc in the West Bank, where, he said, residents were continuing to live their lives.
Both Erdan and Bennett said that deaths from traffic accidents were much higher than those from terrorism, drawing criticism from the opposition Zionist Union party. Knesset member Itzik Shmueli described the comments as “delusion diluted by hypocrisy,” saying he doubted government ministers were saying such things to their own families. “Every day, Israeli citizens are being killed on the streets and all that the government, which has no answers, tells them is that they must be consoled by the fact that the chances of being injured in a traffic accident as a result of another of its failures are higher,” he said.
The Tel Aviv Municipality said Monday that security around schools and kindergartens would be extended to 6.30 p.m. and that kindergarten teachers, who have emergency buttons in their buildings, were undergoing refresher drills about security procedures. The municipality said schools and kindergartens were at 80 percent capacity, a large increase over Sunday, when many parents in Tel Aviv kept their kids home.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.