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Police sweep northern Arab town in hunt for TA shooter

Search in homes of Nashat Milhem’s relatives said to come up empty; family said to believe he’s hiding out in West Bank

Nashat Milhem, the Arab Israeli man who carried out the shooting attack in Tel Aviv on January 1, 2016. (Israel Police)
Nashat Milhem, the Arab Israeli man who carried out the shooting attack in Tel Aviv on January 1, 2016. (Israel Police)

Police descended in large numbers Wednesday morning on an unnamed Arab town in an area of Israel known as the Triangle, as the manhunt for Nashat Milhem, suspected of shooting three people to death in two attacks in Tel Aviv Friday, entered its sixth day.

Since the attacks, Milhem, from Arara in the north, has remained at large. Authorities have warned he is armed, dangerous and capable of striking again.

According to Israel Radio, officers on Wednesday morning searched the homes of relatives of Milhem in one of the towns in the Triangle but the search came up empty. A Channel 10 report Tuesday evening said that police currently assess that Milhem has fled to northern Israel.

Earlier reports have said that police do not know where he is, although law enforcement were looking into the possibility that he fled to the West Bank. Israel Police chief Roni Alsheich indicated at a press conference Tuesday that Milhem was no longer believed to be in Tel Aviv, although he refused to elaborate.

The attorney representing Mohammed Milhem, the father of the suspected shooter who is himself a suspect in the case, said Tuesday that his client believed his son was in the West Bank.

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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.

The first attack Friday took place outside the Simta bar on Tel Aviv’s busy Dizengoff Street. Shift manager Alon Bakal, 26, and patron Shimon Ruimi, 30, were killed in a hail of bullets as the gunman opened fire with a submachine gun he apparently stole from his father. Seven people were wounded. After fleeing the scene, Milhem shot dead an Arab Israeli cab driver whose taxi he had hailed, police say.

The father’s lawyer, Nechami Feinblatt, said his client had been in touch with his son after he carried out the attacks. The elder Milhem was remanded for two days earlier in the day as a suspected accessory to the killing, and for allegedly obstructing the investigation. Five other suspects, including several other relatives, were also remanded by the Haifa Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday.

Muhammad Milhem at the Haifa Magistrate's Court on Tuesday, January 5, 2016 (Channel 2 screenshot)
Muhammad Milhem at the Haifa Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday, January 5, 2016 (Channel 2 screenshot)

Speaking to Channel 10 Tuesday evening, Feinblatt — who noted he has been representing Mohammed Milhem for years — said police and the Shin Bet were aware of the phone call.

“I know the father did call a certain number, and told police about it,” his attorney said. “Without elaborating, there was some contact, which the police and Shin Bet are aware of.”

Feinblatt told the TV station that his client had “certainly not” helped the suspected shooter escape. He said Mohammed Milhem’s communication with his son was known to police on Friday, though he was freed before being rearrested Tuesday.

“The truth is, the Shin Bet is desperate,” Feinblatt said, and “when there is such a crisis in the agency,” they arrest people to gather information.

Feinblatt said family members of the suspected killer maintain they are innocent. He said the family was clinging to the hope that Nashat Milhem was hired to kill the bar patrons by Israeli criminals, and that the shooting wasn’t a terror attack.

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