A relative of Tel Aviv gunman Nashat Milhem was remanded into custody for seven days on Sunday on suspicion of playing “a central role” as an accomplice in the January 1 killings, a TV report said.
The male suspect was first arrested on January 5, and police have “strong evidence” connecting him to the killings, Channel 10 said.
Two days after Israeli Arab Milhem was cornered in his home village of Arara and shot dead when he opened fire on the forces that had come to arrest him, security forces continued to arrest suspects who may have helped him before and after he killed three Israelis in Tel Aviv on January 1, and continued to search several homes belonging to the wider Milhem family in Arara.
The killer’s father Mohammed and his brother Ali were released from detention Sunday, with limitations placed on their movement, and the family had anticipated burying the gunman at a small ceremony. However, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan instructed the Israel Police to delay the return of the body, for fear that the ceremony would be hijacked by extremist groups, and the funeral was reported unlikely to take place before Monday.
“If I had been an accomplice, you wouldn’t be seeing me here now,” said Mohammed Milhem after his release.
He also said he was not angry with the Shin Bet for arresting him, and that he had fully cooperated with the Israeli law enforcement authorities.
Channel 10 said the father told one of its reporters that he wished Nashat had been captured alive, as the security forces had also intended. “Why did they have to kill him?” he reportedly asked.
Some relatives from the wider Milhem family protested that security personnel had destroyed property, and even stolen valuables, during searches Sunday in Arara. Adel Milhem, a relative whose home was searched, pointed to a silver family car that had been smashed, and said the forces had stolen gold, silver and jewelry when searching his home. “I had nothing to do with (the crime),” said Adel. “My car and home are destroyed. They should just kill me.”
Another relative, Umeila, said the searchers had ripped the sink out of her wall, destroyed her TV set, and trashed her home.
Suspects were arrested in Arara and also in the nearby village of Bartaa, where one arrest was filmed.
Nashat Milhem was killed in a shootout with police and the Shin Bet on Friday, a week after he killed three Israelis — Alon Bakal, Shimon Ruimi and Amin Shaaban — in Tel Aviv on January 1 and then fled a massive police manhunt to hide in his hometown in the northern Israeli village of Arara. According to officials, he was not affiliated with any organized terror group, but is believed to have been motivated by a jihadist ideology.
Public defender Nechami Feinblatt, who represents the Milhem family, told Army Radio earlier on the day that he had secured the release of Mohammed and Ali Milhem after reaching an agreement with the Shin Bet.
“I think the Shin Bet understands that the family wanted to help capture him and not help him [escape],” he said.
In the days following the shooting, Milhem’s father and brothers Juadat and Ali, together with five other relatives and friends, were arrested on suspicion of premeditated manslaughter, being an accessory to murder, illegal association and conspiracy to commit a crime.
Hours after the shootings on January 1, Mohammed went to local police and told them he had recognized his son as the gunman from TV broadcasts of security camera footage of the attack.
On Monday, he made a televised plea to his son to turn himself in, as Tel Aviv residents hunkered down amid ongoing searches for the gunman. “Contact me,” Mohammed said, appealing directly to his son. “I will help you. Let’s end this saga. These are difficult days for the family.”
On Wednesday, Juadat Milhem, the terrorist’s brother, repeated that plea after he was freed from police custody.
Last week, Feinblatt told Israeli media that while Mohammed had been in touch with his son after the murders, he had “certainly not” helped him escape. He said that security officials were made aware of the phone call between the two.
On Monday, police found DNA evidence indicating Milhem was in his hometown of Arara, and he was eventually tracked to an abandoned house in the town.
The structure was surrounded on Friday afternoon, and according to police, Milhem spotted the forces converging upon him. He fired on them from the window of the apartment, fled the building, and ran some 200 meters before he was gunned down by security forces. The forces had been ordered to take him alive if possible.