Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan on Sunday instructed the Israel Police to delay the return of the body of Tel Aviv gunman Nashat Milhem to his family for burial.
Milhem was killed in a shootout with police and the Shin Bet on Friday, a week after he killed three Israelis in Tel Aviv on January 1 and then fled a massive police manhunt to hide in his hometown in the northern Israeli village of Arara. According to officials, he was not affiliated with any organized terror group, but is believed to have been motivated by a jihadist ideology.
Several members of his family are being investigated on suspicion of aiding his week-long escape from police.
Milhem’s family was preparing to bury him Sunday afternoon in Arara, but Erdan, who oversees the police, instructed that Milhem’s body be withheld from the family while the investigation into possible accomplices remains underway.
Erdan was concerned that the funeral would turn into a “rally in support of terror,” Israel Radio reported Sunday, even though Milhem’s father Mohammed had promised a modest, small burial.
Several suspects who may helped the gunman evade arrest have not yet been found, police said.
Nashat’s father Mohammed and brother Ali, who were in police custody as suspected accomplices, were released Sunday to house arrest.
Public defender Nechami Feinblatt, who represents the Milhem family, told Army Radio earlier in the day that he had secured his clients’ release after reaching an agreement with the Shin Bet.
“I think the Shin Bet understands that the family wanted to help capture him and not help him [escape],” he said.
In the days following the shooting, Milhem’s father and brothers Juadat and Ali, together with five other relatives and friends, were arrested on charges of premeditated manslaughter, being an accessory to murder, illegal association and conspiracy to commit a crime. The next day, Juadat was released from prison, but ordered not to return home.
“If I had been an accomplice, you wouldn’t be seeing me here now,” said Mohammed Milhem after his release on Sunday. He also said he was not angry with the Shin Bet for arresting him, and that he had fully cooperated with the Israeli law enforcement authorities.
Hours after the shootings on January 1, Mohammed went to local police and told them he had recognized his son as the gunman from TV broadcasts of security camera footage of the attack.
On Monday, he made a televised plea to his son to turn himself in, as Tel Aviv residents hunkered down amid ongoing searches for the gunman.
“Contact me,” Mohammed said, appealing directly to his son. “I will help you. Let’s end this saga. These are difficult days for the family.”
On Wednesday, Juadat Milhem, the terrorist’s brother, repeated that plea after he was freed from police custody.
Last week, Feinblatt told Israeli media that while Mohammed had been in touch with his son after the murders, he had “certainly not” helped him escape. He said that security officials were made aware of the phone call between the two.
While Milhem’s family immediately condemned his actions and urged he turn himself in, some local residents told media that his relatives had known where he was hiding all along.
On Monday, police found DNA evidence indicating Milhem was in his hometown of Arara, and he was eventually tracked to an abandoned house in the town.
The structure was surrounded on Friday afternoon, and according to police, Milhem spotted the forces converging upon him. He fired on them from the window of the apartment, fled the building, and ran some 200 meters before he was gunned down by security forces. The forces had been ordered to take him alive if possible.
Milhem’s funeral had been set for Sunday afternoon in a small, private ceremony in Arara, to avoid drawing negative attention to the family, relatives said.