A schoolgirl from the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Ramat Aviv on Friday discovered a cellphone belonging to the Arab Israeli gunman who killed two Israelis on the city’s Dizengoff Street that day, but did not realize its significance until more than a day later.
It was not clear whether the suspected gunman, Nashat Milhem, disposed of the phone before or after the 3 p.m. attack. The Ynet news website reported Sunday that the girl stumbled upon the phone in the tony neighborhood — where Milhem had been working for the past few months — at about 2 p.m. But later reports suggested he may have thrown it away after the attack.
The girl and her father turned on the phone and it immediately began to ring with calls from mostly Arabic speakers, Ynet said. One of the callers was Milhem’s boss, who was reportedly looking for his employee. The family believed that the phone belonged to an Arab worker employed in the area, and only realized it might be significant to the shooting investigation after Milhem’s name was released on Saturday night.
Police on Sunday night were still looking for the killer, but were keeping details of the search under wraps.
Three members of a family in Jaffa were arrested over their alleged ties to Milhem, the Maariv daily reported Sunday evening.
Police sources said that Milhem also killed a taxi driver in the north of the city an hour after killing two Israelis in a bar. Milhem remains armed, dangerous and capable of striking again.
Nashat Milhem is still in possession of the submachine gun he used in Friday’s attack, and plenty of ammunition, Israel’s Channel 10 quoted police sources saying. The TV report described Milhem, 29, from Arara in northern Israel, as “a ticking bomb,” who, it was feared, could carry out additional acts of violence, including a further shooting attack or an attempt to take civilians hostage.
Police do not have “any kind of a lead” as to his whereabouts, Channel 2 reported. In a statement late Sunday, the police thanked the public for its alertness, and said it could not release details of the investigation for fear of prejudicing the ongoing manhunt.
As more information on the suspect emerged, people who have come into contact with him in recent years described a violent man, quick to take offense.
A police officer who guarded Milhem when he was jailed for attacking a soldier with a screwdriver and trying to steal his weapon in 2007 — ostensibly to avenge the killing of a cousin in a police raid — described the alleged killer as a “very problematic” and “violent” individual, who was “full of hatred.” When he heard that Milhem had allegedly carried out Friday’s attack, the police officer said, “I couldn’t believe he’d been set free” after the five-year term to which he was sentenced for attacking the soldier.
Sunday’s search for Milhem focused in part on the Ramat Aviv area where he worked as a vegetable delivery man — for a branch of the same Anise natural foods store he was seen leaving on Dizengoff Street when he began his shooting spree.
“He knew this whole area very well,” said Yoel Galatkin, a store owner in the Ramat Aviv Schuster Center where Milhem worked. “He slept here [in this area] every night.”
Workers in the area who know Milhem disputed his family’s claim that he was not of sound mind, describing him as energetic and focused, albeit quick to take offense. Yigal Markis, owner of a nearby dry cleaner, described him as “sociable.”
A report prepared for a drugs rehabilitation center that refused to admit him, shown by Channel 10 news, described him as “easily angered” and prone to believe that he had “superpowers.”
Police are now certain Milhem also killed cab driver Amin Shaaban, who was found murdered in north Tel Aviv an hour after the attack, Channel 10 reported. Shaaban, a Bedouin father of 11 from Lod who worked for a taxi station at Ben Gurion Airport, was laid to rest on Sunday.
The two victims of the Friday Dizengoff Street shooting — Alon Bakal and Shimon Ruimi — were also buried Sunday, with thousands in attendance. Two people critically injured in the shooting are no longer in danger, according to a report from Ichilov Hospital. One of them has a bullet lodged in his skull, which cannot be removed, the hospital said.