The Israeli security forces ascertained that the gunman who killed two people and wounded seven more in an attack in central Tel Aviv on Friday is an Arab Israeli from the north of the country.
The killer, named Saturday as Nashat Milhem, was still on the loose on Friday night. A gag order initially prevented the naming of the suspect.
Security sources identified the suspect as a 29-year-old resident of Arara, a village in Wadi Ara in northern Israel. The suspect’s father, said to be a security guard and a police volunteer, recognized his son in video footage of the attack, and called the police. Ahmed Milhem, a relative, said the suspect also stole his father’s weapon from a safe at their home.
The killer was acting out of “Islamist” motives, having been incited to violence, Channel 2 said.
But his former lawyer and relative, Sami Milhem, told Channel 2 that the man was suffering from mental health issues. “He is not of sound mind,” Sami Milhem said. He confirmed that the suspect had previously served time in jail. The suspect’s father was a volunteer with the police, Milhem said. He said that he had last seen the suspect at a wedding about a month ago, and he had seemed “stoned.”
Channel 2 reported that the killer’s cousin was shot dead in a police raid in 2006, when the cousin was found to be storing weapons. Subsequently, in a 2007 incident, the killer attacked a soldier with a screwdriver and tried to grab the soldier’s gun to avenge his cousin’s death, and was jailed for five years. After that incident, the suspect was given a psychiatric examination and found to require treatment, Israel Radio said. Relatives said he was depressed and had been working in various casual jobs of late.
Security forces were conducting extensive searches for the man, as police bolstered its presence on the streets of Tel Aviv and scoured the streets for a sign of him.
Another relative, Ahmed Milhem, urged him to turn himself in. The suspect’s father was being questioned by police late Friday.
In his home village of Arara, the attack was widely condemned, Israel Radio said.
Footage from the scene of the attack shows people sitting in a cafe on the popular Dizengoff Street, 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.
He had been filmed moments earlier in a natural foods grocery store, calmly removing the murder weapon from his backpack and stepping into the street. A Koran was later found in the backpack.
The two victims were shot dead in the Simta Bar. One of them, Alon Bakal, was a manager. The second, 30-year-old Shimon Ruimi from Ofakim, was one of five long-time friends who were celebrating a birthday together.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan declined to discuss the details of the investigation into the attack on Friday night, telling Channel 2 only that it was advancing. The residents of Tel Aviv should carry on as normal, he said, citing the huge number of police deployed to the city in the wake of the attack.
Erdan said he could not confirm definitively that the shooting was an act of terrorism.
The head of the Joint (Arab) List party, MK Ayman Odeh, condemned the attack on Friday evening.
“It is heart-breaking to see the images from today. Even though we do not have all the details, we must condemn every attack on innocent civilians in the clearest and most unequivocal manner,” he said in a statement.