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'We are focused on one single mission – to catch the murderer'

Police chief signals Tel Aviv no longer threatened by gunman

In vague statement, Roni Alsheich says ‘tension’ in city can be ‘dramatically reduced’; responds to complaints that police haven’t updated public on manhunt for Nashat Milhem

  • Israeli security forces look during a hunt for Nashat Milhem, the prime suspect in first of January fatal Tel Aviv shooting attack in Ramat Aviv neighborhood, Tel Aviv, on January 5, 2016. (Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
    Israeli security forces look during a hunt for Nashat Milhem, the prime suspect in first of January fatal Tel Aviv shooting attack in Ramat Aviv neighborhood, Tel Aviv, on January 5, 2016. (Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
  • Israeli security forces search for the gunman after a shooting attack at a pub in central Tel Aviv, on Friday, January 1, 2016. (Photo by Esther Rubyan/Flash90)
    Israeli security forces search for the gunman after a shooting attack at a pub in central Tel Aviv, on Friday, January 1, 2016. (Photo by Esther Rubyan/Flash90)
  • Israeli security forces look during a hunt for Nashat Milhem, the prime suspect in first of January fatal Tel Aviv shooting attack in Ramat Aviv neighborhood, Tel Aviv, on January 5, 2016. (Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
    Israeli security forces look during a hunt for Nashat Milhem, the prime suspect in first of January fatal Tel Aviv shooting attack in Ramat Aviv neighborhood, Tel Aviv, on January 5, 2016. (Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
  • Israeli security forces search for the gunman who shot Israeli civilians at a pub in central Tel Aviv on Friday, January 1, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
    Israeli security forces search for the gunman who shot Israeli civilians at a pub in central Tel Aviv on Friday, January 1, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

As the manhunt for the perpetrator of Friday’s deadly Tel Aviv shooting entered its fifth day, Israel’s police chief suggested in vague language Tuesday morning that the heightened terror alert may be over.

Roni Alsheich said it was possible to “dramatically reduce the tension in the Tel Aviv area.” He said he could not elaborate “in order to not cause harm” to the ongoing investigation.

Speaking after a condolence call to the family of Alon Bakal, one of two people killed in the Friday attack, the newly appointed commissioner assured the public that police were making “every effort” to catch Nashat Milhem, named as the chief suspect.

“We are performing a search in collaboration with the Shin Bet security service, with many officers, and with special police forces. Our primary goal is that it will be over quickly and without interruption. We are focused on one single mission – to catch the murderer,” Alsheich said.

“Our secondary goal is not to harm the safety of our forces. At the end of the day, I need to look into the eyes of the wives, children, siblings and parents if, heaven forbid, I endanger the officers unnecessarily because of public relations,” he added.

Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich speaks with reporters during a press conference in the northern Israeli city of Carmiel on January 5, 2016. (Screen capture: Israel Police)
Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich speaks with reporters during a press conference in the northern Israeli city of Carmiel on January 5, 2016. (Screen capture: Israel Police)

Alsheich has been accused of failing to communicate the police’s progress in the manhunt for Milhem to a worried public.

“This is a mission that is ultimately upon my shoulders,” Alsheich said Tuesday, “and therefore I must decide what I say and what I don’t say. Sometimes it is not known why a piece of information seems marginal [enough to publish] — why we are publishing that or not publishing the explanation can inflict damage. Retroactively you can ask all the questions, and as long as it doesn’t cause harm, we will be able to answer.”

Alon Bakal, one the victims of a January 1, 2016 shooting attack in Tel Aviv, seen outside the Simta bar on December 20, 2015 (Courtesy Facebook)
Alon Bakal, one the victims of a January 1, 2016 shooting attack in Tel Aviv, seen outside the Simta bar on December 20, 2015 (Courtesy Facebook)

The police must protect “the tools we have for future operations, for future missions. Our tools are not disposable, not our tools and not the tools of the Shin Bet security service,” he said.

“Therefore at this point we are doing one thing and one thing only — updating the public on [security] directives, and that is something we have done and will do. At this stage, we can say that starting from this morning we can dramatically reduce the tension in the Tel Aviv area. I will not explain beyond that in order to not cause harm, but we can dramatically reduce the tension in the Tel Aviv area.”

Milhem was known to have fled the scene of the shooting on Dizengoff Street on foot, and hailed a cab on nearby Ibn Gabirol Street. The cabbie drove to north Tel Aviv, where Milhem worked. There, Milhem is alleged to have killed the driver, Ayman Shaaban, outside the city’s Mandarin Hotel. He then drove the cab himself to Namir Road, where he abandoned it near a bus stop.

Thousands of police have been carrying out searches around the city for Milhem, and Israel has also reportedly reached out to the Palestinian Authority for help locating him.

The search has been focused on the northern neighborhood of Ramat Aviv Gimel.

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