Nashat Milhem, the gunman who killed three Israelis last week in Tel Aviv, was shot and killed by Israeli forces in an exchange of fire in northern Israel on Friday afternoon.
He was located in a building near his family’s home in the Israel Arab village of Arara. Initial reports said he had been “neutralized.” It was later confirmed that he had been killed at about 4.20 p.m.
Milhem was tracked down to the building where he was hiding out, spotted the armed forces encircling the building, and attempted to flee when they burst in. During the confrontation, he opened fire on the forces, and was shot dead, Israeli security officials said.
Channel 2 reported that the Israeli forces, from an elite police unit and the Shin Bet, had sought to capture him alive, but were fired upon by Milhem, who was using the same weapon he used for last Friday’s shootings. None of the Israeli security personnel was hurt.
Channel 2 said he was tracked down to a building where his family had lived in the past. The building is very close to the family’s current home.
Hakim Younis told Channel 10 TV that he saw the shooting start. “I was sitting on my balcony with my cousin … when suddenly, shooting began, hundreds of bullets, like in a war,” Younis said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and other Israeli leaders praised the security forces for the operation.
Five people were arrested in relation to the case shortly before Milhem was found.
Several members of his family had been arrested in the course of the manhunt, and police and the Shin Bet were investigating which, if any, friends and relatives, had helped him before and after the January 1 shootings.
Chief of Police Roni Alsheikh said the case was not finished, and that police would continue to work to expose any and all others who had helped Milhem before and after the shootings. “All of those involved in terrorism,” Alsheikh said, “should know that we have the means, the determination and the patience to find them all.”
A Channel 2 report said Milhem was located in recent days via a “personal item” that was found in the area on Monday. The item was checked and found to match his DNA. He was then tracked down.
The TV report also said security authorities were investigating whether he had been affiliated to Islamic State, though there was no confirmation of this.
Channel 2 quoted security officials saying there was now “no doubt” that Milhem had opened fire in Tel Aviv on January 1 “for nationalistic reasons,” rather than for criminal or any other motives. Tellingly, Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon had referred to Milhem earlier Friday as a terrorist — a term Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not use when discussing the case in recent days.
Early indications were that Milhem had been in the Arara area for almost the entire past week, security sources said. Channel 2 said he got to the Wadi Ara area of northern Israel within three hours of the shooting last Friday.
Hundreds of police officers had deployed in northern Israel and in the Tel Aviv area Friday, and inspection checkpoints were set up at several locations, a week after the deadly shooting attack by Milhem at a bar on Tel Aviv’s busy Dizengoff Street. Milhem killed two people in Tel Aviv’s Simta bar last Friday, before he went on to murder a cab driver whose taxi he hailed to make his escape.
Police on Friday had also descended in large numbers on a neighborhood in the Arab village of Arara, the hometown of Milhem. Authorities had warned he was armed, dangerous and capable of striking again.
Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich indicated at a press conference Tuesday that Milhem was no longer believed to be in Tel Aviv, although he refused to elaborate. 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.
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 said 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.
Milhem killed two people in a shooting attack outside the Simta Bar on Tel Aviv’s busy Dizengoff Street last Friday, New Year’s Day, before fleeing and disappearing. 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 allegedly stole from his father. Seven people were also wounded.
Police on Wednesday evening officially named Milhem as the killer of Bedouin taxi driver Ayman Shaaban some 60 minutes after the bar attack.
Israeli government and opposition leaders praised the security forces for bringing the week-long manhunt to an end. Local Arara municipal chief Mudar Younis expressed relief that the manhunt was over. “It is important to me and the residents of the village that this is behind us,” he said.
“This is our consolation, and we are pleased that none of our own were hurt in the neutralization. I was sure we would get him,” said David Bakal, whose son Alon was killed in the shooting at the Simta Bar.