A fugitive Arab Israeli suspected of killed two people in a Tel Aviv bar last Friday, before he went on to murder a cab driver whose taxi he hailed to make his escape, may have been influenced by the Islamic State terrorist group, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Friday.
“[There] are a few Israeli Arabs who enlist on behalf of spreading [extremist] ideology and go to fight in Syria or Iraq — or try to operate from here,” Ya’alon said during an interview with Army Radio.
“Who knows the motives of the terrorist who operated in Tel Aviv just a week ago,” he added.
The Israel Police on Friday was set to officially request the assistance of the Palestinian Authority in searching for 29-year-old Nashat Milhem, who allegedly killed two people in a shooting attack outside the Simta Bar on Tel Aviv’s busy Dizengoff Street last Friday, New Year’s Day, before fleeing in a cab, killing the driver, and disappearing.
Ya’alon’s use of the word “terrorist” to describe Milhem was significant; in an address at the site of the Simta Bar shooting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last Saturday took pains not to call the killer a terrorist, apparently because there was less certainty at the time about Milhem’s motives.
Shift manager Alon Bakal, 26, and patron Shimon Ruimi, 30, were killed in a hail of bullets as the suspected gunman opened fire with a submachine gun he allegedly stole from his father. Seven people were also wounded.
Police on Wednesday evening officially named Milhem as the killer of Bedouin taxi driver Ayman Shaaban some 60 minutes after the bar attack. In fleeing the scene, police said, Milhem shot dead Shaaban after hailing and escaping in his taxi.
The Times of Israel reported Monday that Israel had quietly requested of the Palestinian Authority that it share any intelligence that could lead to the capture of the suspect. The appeal to the PA was made soon after Milhem was identified as the suspect last Friday.
According to Channel 2 TV, Israeli security officials increasingly believe Milhem may be in the West Bank, although most details of the search remain under a gag order.
Since the attacks, Milhem, from the northern town of Arara, has remained at large. Authorities have warned he is armed, dangerous and capable of striking again.
According to the Channel 10 report, it would be more difficult for Israeli authorities to track down Milhem in the north than in the West Bank, where the Shin Bet security service has many informants. Police assessments quoted by the TV station said Milhem had likely received assistance both before and after Friday’s attacks.