Definitive evidence that Tel Aviv gunman Nashat Milhem was hiding out in his home village of Arara was obtained when excrement found on Monday in an abandoned building in the village was tested and found to match his DNA, security officials said.
The fugitive Israeli-Arab gunman was suspected — but not known — to have fled north toward his home immediately after killing three Israelis in Tel Aviv on January 1. Israeli forces on his trail on Monday, January 4 believed they had tracked him to an abandoned building in a field in Arara but apparently arrived too late, the officials said. They found human excrement at the scene, however, tested it, and established that it matched Milhem’s DNA, Israel’s Channel 10 news reported.
In the wake of that discovery, and also the reported matching of his DNA to a cigarette butt, national police chief Roni Alsheich was able to signal to the public Tuesday morning that the likelihood of the killer still being on the loose in the Tel Aviv area was significantly reduced.
Amid criticism that it had taken a full week to catch the killer, who was shot dead when seeking to escape security forces on Friday afternoon, officials hinted that they had delayed closing in on Milhem in order to also be able to identity and ultimately arrest numerous people who helped him while he was hiding out.
Milhem was ultimately cornered in an abandoned home that belongs to a 76-year-old female relative of his, in a building that bears the family name “Milhem” written in blue Hebrew lettering on the wall. “She is in hospital, on a breathing machine,” Ahmad Milhem, another relative, told Channel 2 news on Saturday night.
Batting away a derisive question about why it had taken a week to find a terrorist who was hiding in a building with his name on the wall, Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told the TV channel that the operation was ongoing, and potential accomplices were still being rounded up. “We’ll catch everybody who played a role,” Erdan said.
According to officials speaking after he was killed, Milhem made his way back to the Arara area within hours of killing three Israelis on January 1. He initially hid out in the rough, then in an abandoned building, and finally in the apartment of his hospitalized relative.
Police allowed reporters into the apartment on Saturday. It was well-stocked with food and water, had a TV set and a radio, and also contained the black clothes Milhem used when he went on his January 1 shooting spree.
The building was surrounded on the afternoon of January 8, and Milhem apparently spotted the forces converging upon him. He fired on them from the window of the apartment, fled the building, and ran some 200 meters, jumping over a low wall into the yard of an adjoining building, security officials said. He fired on the forces chasing him, including at the lead officer and at a search dog (who were not injured), and was gunned down. The forces had been ordered to take him alive if possible.
TV news reports on Saturday night said Milhem had been spotted out and about in Arara by locals on at least two occasions in recent days, carrying his submachine gun. On one occasion, he was seen buying cigarettes, Channel 10 said.
One suspected accomplice acknowledged at a remand hearing Saturday that a friend had reported seeing Milhem, but he said he did not consider that the information was credible.
Relative Ahmed Milhem said of the suspected accomplices: “Maybe people didn’t want to get into a fight with him (and therefore were intimidated into helping him). The whole country knew how dangerous he was.”