An off-duty policeman mistakenly offered shelter in his apartment and a glass of water to one of the Tel Aviv Sarona market shooters Wednesday night, leaving him alone for several minutes with his wife before realizing who he was and rushing back to his apartment to arrest him.
The shooter was one of two terrorists, Haled and Muhammad al-Mahmara from the Palestinian town of Yatta, who went on a deadly shooting spree, killing four Israelis and injuring 16. They were seen using improvised Carlo rifles, and according to some accounts also carried knives.
The shooter, who was dressed in a suit, ditched his weapon and ran from the scene of the attack along with fleeing civilians, and was not immediately recognizable as one of the attackers, reports said.
The police officer, who lives nearby, encountered the attacker, who appeared very shaken up, near the scene and offered him shelter and a drink. He led him him to his apartment and left him drinking a glass of water in the kitchen with his wife and other family members, while he dashed out again to the scene.
The policeman only realized his mistake when he approached the scene of the attack and noticed that the second shooter, who had been shot and handcuffed, was wearing an suit identical to the one worn by the man sitting in his kitchen.
When understanding dawned on the officer, he dashed back to his apartment and proceeded to capture the shooter — afraid for the lives of his family members — and call for backup.
But when other police arrived at the apartment, one of them accidentally discharged his weapon, and a ricochet from the shot hit the officer, injuring him in the thigh. He was treated and was said to be in light condition.
The officer’s wife, who is the daughter of former Israel Police commissioner Assaf Hefetz, told Channel 2 that the shooter remained silent to prevent her from realizing his identity .
“We ran into the apartment and he ran in with us,” she said. “I asked him who he is. He didn’t answer and just asked for a glass of water. My husband immediately grabbed his own gun and ran outside.”
She added that the attacker didn’t speak a word, and when she asked him if he knew English or Hebrew, he simply muttered, “No, no” in English and fell silent.
“We thought he looked like all the other people running away from the scene of the attack,” she said, noting that he seemed very frightened.
Her father, former police chief Hefetz, said his son-in-law was resting and recovering from the gunshot wound.
He told Army Radio that the injury was “mild.”
Wednesday’s attack was the second deadly shooting in Tel Aviv in six months.
On January 1, 29-year-old Nashat Milhem of the northern Israeli Arab town of Arara, opened fire outside a bar on Tel Aviv’s busy Dizengoff Street, killing two Israelis. After fleeing, Milhem killed Bedouin taxi driver Ayman Shaaban some 60 minutes later. Milhem was killed in a shootout with police days later while hiding out in a building in his hometown.
In another stabbing spree in the city’s Jaffa neighborhood in March, 22-year-old Palestinian Bashar Massalha killed US citizen Taylor Force and injured 10 others in a rampage along the Jaffa boardwalk. He was killed by security forces during the attack.
Since October 2015, 33 Israelis and four foreign nationals have been killed and hundreds more injured in a spate of attacks, though the violence had dramatically waned of late. Some 200 Palestinians have also been killed, some two-thirds of them while carrying out attacks and the rest in clashes with troops, Israeli officials say.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.