Police on Saturday identified the suspected gunman in Friday’s shooting attack in Tel Aviv as Nashat Milhem, a 29-year-old resident of Arara, a village in Wadi Ara in northern Israel.
Security forces have known the identity of the suspect since Friday, but a gag order had prevented him from being named until Saturday evening.
Milhem, an Israeli Arab who was jailed for five years for a 2007 attack on a soldier, is suspected of shooting and killing two people and wounding seven more in Friday’s attack in central Tel Aviv. He was still on the loose on Saturday evening.
According to a report on Ynet news, during his time in jail Milhem requested several times to undergo anger management therapy. However, his appeal was repeatedly denied, and he claimed that the Prison Service disregarded his requests.
The report further stated that numerous pleas on behalf of his lawyer and family to treat him as mentally unstable were rejected by the courts, despite Justice Tzila Keinan ruling at the time that Milhem’s “behavior stems from a mental disorder.”
Haaretz reported an internal conflict within the security establishment over the decision to release Milhem’s name. While police pushed for its publication, believing revealing the suspect’s name and an up-to-date photo could help efforts to apprehend him, the Shin Bet internal security service prefered to continue working in a clandestine manner. Eventually it was decided to go forward with the publication.
Security forces have so far failed to capture the escaped shooter. According to Hebrew media reports, authorities now believe their best chance is to wait for Milhem to venture out of his hiding place in order to get food or attempt to find transportation. Releasing Milhem’s name and photo could help the public identify him if and when this happens.
Ram Jan, the soldier who was attacked eight years ago by Milhem at the Karkur Junction near the IDF’s Mahane 80 base, said Saturday that he was still trying to recover from the assault. “It was a very bad incident and I still suffer from it,” 28-year-old Jan, who was attacked repeatedly with a screwdriver as Milhem attempted to steal his weapon, told the Ynet news site. “After the shooting [Friday] I was with my cousins, and they told me that the terrorist who carried out this attack was the same one who attacked me.”
“Even now the incident continues to weigh heavily on me, and I was left with a deep scar and an open wound.” Jan added. “I do not know what needs to be done, but the police and the authorities should do their job.”
The suspect’s father, 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 suspect’s brother, Jaudat, was arrested Friday on suspicion of involvement in the crime, authorities said Saturday.
A new security camera video released Saturday showed Milhem walking calmly along Dizengoff Street minutes before the attack. Earlier footage showed him in a natural foods store, and stepping out to carry out the attack.
The suspected killer’s former lawyer and relative, Sami Milhem, told Channel 2 that he 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. 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 Milhem’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, Milhem 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 Milhem, as police bolstered its presence on the streets of Tel Aviv.
Ahmed Milhem urged his cousin to turn himself in. The suspect’s father was questioned by police late Friday.
In his home village of Arara, the attack was widely condemned.
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 there. The second, 30-year-old Shimon Ruimi from Ofakim, was one of five long-time friends who were celebrating a birthday together.