The manhunt for the suspect in a Tel Aviv shooting attack moved beyond the Dan region on Wednesday, as Arara resident Nashat Milhem evaded security forces for a sixth day.
According to security assessments, Milhem succeeded to escape into the West Bank in past days. It is thought that the fugitive did not cross into the Palestinian territory by way of one of the organized crossings but rather via holes in the security fence, the same way that thousands of Palestinians illegally enter Israel daily.
On Wednesday morning, special police units and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) agents searched towns and villages inside the Green Line in the Wadi Ara and Triangle regions.
The communities where searches were conducted included Baka al-Gharbiya, near Hadera; Milhem has relatives in the town.
In the first days after Friday’s terrorist attack, security forces focused their efforts on north Tel Aviv, in particular the Ramat Aviv area, where Milhem’s cellphone was found on the day of the attack. Investigators believe he discarded the phone before going on the shooting rampage, in order to make it harder to track him.
On Wednesday, Milhem’s brother Juadat was released from custody, five days after he was arrested on suspicion of being an accomplice to the attack. On Wednesday, after he was released without condition, he repeated calls for his brother to turn himself in, and apologized on behalf of the family.
“We aren’t connected to anything and we are very sorry about what happened,” Juadat said.
When asked whether the Shin Bet arrested him and several other family members and associates simply to pressure Milhem to turn himself in, Juadat did not reply.
On Thursday, the Milhem brothers’ father, Muhammad, will appear in court for his second remand extension, two days after he was arrested on suspicion of being an accomplice to the attack.
Earlier this week, investigators questioned Milhem’s mother for 12 hours, it emerged on Wednesday. In a report on Channel 2, she was quoted as saying that Shin Bet investigators told her the family home could be destroyed if they do not cooperate.
The agency would not comment on the reports, citing a gag order covering the investigation.
Ahmad Milhem, a distant relative of Nashat Milhem and a member of the Arara Local Council, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday evening that “the family feels the stress” of the investigation.
“It is stupid to blame the parents. Could they have a system to hide him?” he said, adding that it is impossible to hide the suspect in a house with the entire country searching for him.
He said he understands that the police are doing everything to find the alleged attacker.
Mudar Yunis, head of the Arara Municipality, told the Post that, as of Wednesday, there is no noticeable increased security presence in the town.
Also on Wednesday, the Simta bar on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv opened for the first time since Friday afternoon, when manager Alon Bakal, 26, from Karmiel, and patron Shimon Ruime, 30, from Ofakim, were killed in the attack.
A third victim, taxi driver Ayman Shaaban, from Lod, is believed to have been murdered by Milhem after the alleged shooter hailed his cab near the scene of the attack and had Shaaban drive him to an open area near the Glilot Interchange.