A man suspected of shooting dead a 47-year-old van driver and moderately wounding a rabbinic judge in Haifa earlier this week handed himself over to police on Thursday, following a large-scale manhunt in northern Israel, officials said.
On Tuesday, Yehiel Iluz, 48, a senior judge on a Haifa rabbinic court for conversion, was moderately wounded in the first shooting on the city’s Haatzma’ut Road. Some 30 minutes later, Guy Kafri, 47, a van driver from Haifa’s Nesher neighborhood, was shot and killed on nearby Hagiborim Street.
Though police have yet to officially declare it as such, law enforcement has investigated the possibility that the two shootings were a terrorist rampage. The suspect’s attorney has denied the allegation.
A gag order was placed on the investigation Tuesday and few details were made available to the press.
On Thursday, that order was partially lifted as the main suspect in the shooting case turned himself in at a police station in northern Israel. The suspect’s name and other identifying characteristics can still not be published.
According to police, the suspect said he “understood that the police manhunt was closing in on him.”
The police credited “determined intelligence and operational efforts,” which included locating the gun used in the shootings, with driving the suspect to turn himself in.
He was handed over to the Shin Bet security service for further questioning as law enforcement attempts to determine if the shootings were indeed acts of terrorism.
Also on Thursday, Kafri was laid to rest in Ofer, south of Haifa. His funeral was attended by hundreds of mourners.
Shahar Dror, brother-in-law of the deceased, said in his eulogy that Kafri was killed solely because he was a Jew.
“He was a good man who helped everyone,” Dror told Channel 2 immediately after the attack. “We don’t understand what happened and hope the police get to the truth and we find out was behind Guy’s murder. He had no enemies.”
Iluz, who was wounded in the first attack, is a father of seven from the Galilee town of Migdal Ha’emek, Channel 10 reported. He works one day a week in Haifa.
First reports indicated a case of mistaken identity in a possible gangland shooting, but as the investigation went on, police increasingly began to suspect it was a terror attack.
On Wednesday, police intensified the manhunt for the suspect, raiding an abandoned home in the predominantly Arab neighborhood of Halissa in Haifa, where he reportedly lives, and searching it for over three hours.
Residents of Halissa and the suspect’s family called on him to turn himself in as they braced for increased police presence in the area.
One resident told Ynet: “We wouldn’t like to see the incident with Nashat Milhem happen again,” in reference to the nationwide police manhunt in January 2016 for the terrorist who carried out a shooting attack on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv, killing two people, and later murdering a taxi driver who had unsuspectingly picked him up. The police hunt had paralyzed the country for days after the attack. Milhem died in a shootout with police in his hometown of Ar’ara in Israel’s Wadi Ara area a week after the killings.
“It’s very scary to see armed, masked police going into homes [looking for the suspect]. It’s like in a war; it’s better that he turn himself in, lest he endanger the whole neighborhood,” the woman said.
Rafat Asadi, a lawyer who lives in the neighborhood, told Ynet that he was surprised by the identity of the suspect, “an honors student,” who comes from a “completely normal family, an exemplary family, that has had no run-ins with the law.
“If he’s involved, I call on him in the name of the whole neighborhood to turn himself in,” said Asadi, describing the late-night raids on the suspect’s home and other homes in the area “and from which the neighbors suffer.”
A spate of stabbings, car-rammings and shooting attacks by mainly Palestinian assailants that began a year ago has waned over the last six months, though sporadic incidents have persisted. Some of the attackers, like Milhem, were Arab Israelis.
From October 2015 to October 2016, 36 Israelis, two Americans and an Eritrean national were killed in in the attacks.
According to AFP figures, some 238 Palestinians, a Jordanian and a Sudanese migrant were also killed during the violent spurt, most of them in the course of carrying out attacks, Israel says, and many of the others in clashes with troops in the West Bank and at the Gaza border, as well as in Israeli airstrikes in the Strip.
— Times of Israel staff contributed to this report