With the hunt for Tel Aviv gunman Nashat Milhem over, following his death in a shootout with security forces on Friday, the focus has turned to those that police suspect may have aided him in evading authorities since the January 1 attack.
Five residents of Arara — Milhem’s hometown and the location of his hideout over the past week — were brought before Haifa’s Magistrate’s Court on Saturday for an extension of their remand. The five are suspected of aiding Milhem.
Local residents said Saturday that many in Arara had known that the the fugitive gunman who killed three people in a Tel Aviv shooting spree was hiding in the northern Arab town, but were reluctant to hand him over to the authorities.
According to the Ynet news website, one of the five suspects told the court that while he had indeed met a man in recent days who he now believed to have been Milhem, he had not known this at the time.
“Someone came over to me, apparently the gunman but I didn’t recognize him. I didn’t know it was Nashat,” he reportedly said. “Police asked me why I didn’t report it and I said I didn’t know him at all.”
Another suspect said he had been called by someone who claimed to have seen Milhem but “I didn’t believe him, I thought he was lying so I didn’t call the police.”
Two of the suspects claimed they provided police with information on Milhem’s location, and said they were wrongfully detained. Their lawyer Jamil Khatib complained to Ynet that “instead of being rewarded they are being punished.”
Meanwhile Channel 10 news reported that up to 10 other local residents have been arrested as part of the investigation.
Milhem’s father, brother and a third relative also remain in police custody over allegations that they assisted the killer in evading arrest. The three will be brought before a judge on Sunday to extend their remand.
Milhem, whose family lives in the town, had been receiving food and other assistance from people in the area, locals said. The building where he was hiding was the home of a 76-year-old female relative who has been in hospital for years, Ahmed Milhem, another relative, told Channel 2 news.
“He received full help, in particular from his close relatives,” local residents told Ynet. “He slept in a different location every day. They brought him food and took care of him.”
The claims contradict those of Milhem’s relatives, who said Friday that they had no idea he was hiding in a neighborhood near his home.
The authorities were finally alerted to Milhem’s whereabouts after he broke into the home of a relative on Thursday night, some reports said. The relative informed the lawyer who was appointed to the gunman’s father, Mohammed Milhem.
Mohammed on Friday morning reportedly gave public defender Nechami Feinblatt his consent to alert the police and Shin Bet security service to the fact that his son was in Arara.
But, according to one of the residents of Arara, family members knew all along that Milhem had been hiding there.
“Nashat grew up in the A-Dahrat neighborhood [of Arara], and had good relations with everyone who lives here. Many people knew he was here, but it was tough to blow the whistle and inform the police. Even his close family did not want to be responsible for his arrest, and preferred to look after him until the last minute.”
Sara Miller contributed to this report.