The killer behind a New Year’s Day shooting attack in central Tel Aviv that left three people dead planned to carry out additional attacks against Israeli kindergartens in Tel Aviv, the Israel Police revealed on Sunday.
In a rare move, the police created a website dedicated to the terror attack carried out by Nashat Milhem, discussing law enforcement’s successes and failures in the investigation that led to a shootout with the terrorist in his hometown of Wadi Ara a week after the attack.
On the website, police chief Roni Alsheich credited his force and Shin Bet security service agents with preventing the additional attacks that Milhem had planned.
Two days after the attack, police discovered that Milhem had prepared to “carry out an attack on Tel Aviv kindergartens.” But Milhem “felt he was being chased” and instead of carrying out further attacks, “focused on survival.”
A main takeaway in the case, according to police, is a need for the force to better coordinate between different police districts, handle the massive number of tips being called in following an attack, and accept text messages, instead of only phone calls.
On January 1, Milhem opened fire at the Simta bar in central Tel Aviv, killing Alon Bakal and Shimon Ruimi. A few minutes later, he killed Amin Shaaban, an Arab Israeli cab driver, outside a Tel Aviv hotel.
“This was an abnormal incident, in which an Israeli citizen carried out an attack in a residential area that he knew well from his work there,” Alsheich said in a statement on the website.
The attack occurred “in a short amount of time, [then] he changed clothes and acted like an innocent civilian, which allowed him to disconnect from the event, without the need for helpers,” he added.
As the attack happened in the heart of Tel Aviv, the police and Shin Bet security service investigation came under fierce public criticism in its first few days for failing to locate the terrorist responsible.
Following the January 8 shootout with Milhem, more seemingly damning information came out about the case, including the failure of the police to respond to a call hours after the attack about a blood-covered man on a bus heading toward Wadi Ara and law enforcement’s delay in investigating a watch with a GPS tracker that Milhem stole, which would have led police directly to him.
This new website appears to be a direct response to some of those criticisms. However, police did not discuss the “smartwatch,” which if discovered earlier, may have led to Milhem’s capture.
On their website, police said they had received the initial call about Milhem traveling toward Wadi Ara after they’d already begun searching the area, making the call inconsequential to the investigation.
A police intelligence officer also tried to make contact with the three Israelis who called in the tip, but they didn’t pick up their phone, according to law enforcement.
“[This] created a feeling for the tipsters that the information they had given was ignored and did not reach its destination,” the website said.
The police also defended the delay in releasing a photograph and name of Milhem, saying they had not initially been sure if Nashat Milhem or his brother was the person responsible for the attack.
One of the main areas the police said needed to be improved was communication with the public. During the investigation, police made only vague statements about its progress, which did little to assuage the concerns of Tel Avivians.
For instance, Alsheich told reporters a few days after the attack that it was possible to “dramatically reduce the tension in the Tel Aviv area,” but said he could not elaborate “in order to not cause harm” to the ongoing investigation.
“In every situational assessment meeting (including those in the field), it is necessary to discuss ‘orders for the public,’ and those should be made accessible to the public (through the police’s Facebook, a message to the media, a prepared response statement on the 110 hotline, etc.),” the police said (emphasis theirs).