Relatives of slain Tel Aviv gunman Nashat Milhem on Friday said they had no idea he was hiding in a neighborhood near his home in the northern village of Arara, but weren’t surprised he ended up dead in a shootout with police.
Milhem, the gunman who killed three Israelis last week in Tel Aviv, was shot and killed by Israeli forces in an exchange of fire on Friday afternoon. He was located in a building near his family’s home in the Israel Arab village of Arara and was confirmed dead around 4:20 p.m.
Milhem was tracked down to the building where he was hiding out not far from the family home, 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.
“During the manhunt we never got the sense that he was hiding in the neighborhood,” one of Milhem’s relatives told Ynet in the aftermath of the shootout. “The whole time we thought he had gone over to the Palestinian Authority [in the West Bank].”
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, Amin Shaaban, outside the city’s Mandarin Hotel. He then drove the cab himself to Namir Road, where he abandoned it near a bus stop.
Early indications were that Milhem had been in the Arara area for almost the entire past week, security sources said. During his weeklong disappearance, however, security officials suggested he may have fled to the West Bank. Channel 2 said he got to the Wadi Ara area of northern Israel within three hours of the shootings last Friday.
“Before the attack in Tel Aviv, Nashat visited many family friends in the al-Daharat neighborhood,” the unnamed relative who spoke to Ynet said. “Everyone who lives there knows him.”
“I can’t comprehend how [the authorities] didn’t manage to reach him all these days despite the fact that he wasn’t far from his home.”
Hundreds of police officers were 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.
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.
Milhem’s relative said they weren’t surprised by the way the search for the Tel Aviv gunman ended.
“A thousand times we called on him to give himself up to the police,” a family member told Ynet. “It’s unfortunate that it ended in [Nashat] being shot dead. We weren’t surprised, we expected this the whole time.”
At the same time, Ahmed Milhem, a relative, said the family would have liked to know what led Nashat to murder three people last week.
“It’s a shame he wasn’t taken alive, we wanted to know what his motives were,” he said, according to Channel 2. “He was a sick man, and he was known to the police.”
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.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and other Israeli leaders praised the security forces for the operation that brought the weeklong 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.
Adiv Sterman and Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.