Shin Bet agents and officers from the Border Police’s Counter-Terrorism Unit killed Nashat Milhem Friday during an exchange of gunfire in his hometown of Arara in northern Israel, ending a weeklong pursuit of the terrorist behind three murders in Tel Aviv.
Milhem’s hideout was found after an intensive Shin Bet-Israel Police investigation that included many undercover and overt operations. Five residents of the town were arrested, on suspicion of helping the terrorist hide there.
The Arab-Israeli terrorist had been on the run since January 1 when he opened fire at Israelis sitting at the Hasimta bar on Dizengoff Street in north Tel Aviv, murdering Alon Bakal and Shimon Ruime and wounding six others, and, during his getaway, shooting dead cab driver Amin Shaaban, from Lod, near Tel Aviv’s Mandarin Hotel.
On Friday, according to security forces, Milhem identified the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) agents and the Counter- Terrorism Unit officers as they approached a structure he used as a hideout.
He tried to escape and then shot at security personnel using the same Spectre M4 Falcon submachine gun he had used in Tel Aviv a week earlier, the Shin Bet said.
Officers “returned fire and killed” the suspect, the Shin Bet said. “There were no injuries among our forces.”
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, commenting on the counterterrorism raid, said it “proved once again that the State of Israel will pursue to the end those who seek its harm, anywhere, within the country, along its borders, and far from them, and it will get its hands on them. This is our commitment to the security of Israeli citizens.”
He congratulated the Israel Police and Shin Bet on the raid.
A security source said the operation to apprehend the terrorist was managed out of the Shin Bet’s operations center.
“A combination of intelligence, operations and investigations” helped security forces and the Shin Bet reach Milhem in his hideout, the source said.
The Shin Bet had put together a puzzle to complete an intelligence picture, which presented a number of possibilities as to where he could have been hiding.
As the investigation closed in on the hideout in Arara, located south of Umm el-Fahm and just inside the Green Line, Shin Bet and the Counter-Terrorism Unit prepared to raid the town and make the arrest, setting up roadblocks and sending officers out to the building in which Milhem was hiding.
The investigation will now focus on ascertaining whether Milhem acted alone, and whether he received help in hiding after fleeing Tel Aviv. The Shin Bet will also seek to examine whether he had come under the influence of Islamic State jihadist ideology, and whether he headed north immediately after the killings, or hid in the Tel Aviv area.
In the first few days of the manhunt, police had concentrated on the northern neighborhoods of the city, in particular Ramat Aviv, where Milhem had ditched his cellphone before the attack, and many parents kept their children home from school, fearing the terrorist was at large in the city.
On Friday, an attorney for Milhem’s father and brothers told Channel 10 that he provided the Shin Bet with Nashat’s whereabouts that day, after a relative notified him of the location of the hideout.
In the interview, attorney Nachmi Feinblatt said he received a call on Friday morning from a relative of the suspect who told him that his wife and daughter-in-law were walking in their neighborhood in Arara at daybreak when they saw that an empty house had been broken into.
Feinblatt said they told him that a man wearing a black hoodie came out of the house – which belongs to a relative of Nashat – gave them a fake name and scurried away.
Feinblatt said the two women told the relative who then contacted him, after which the attorney sent a text message to a contact at the Shin Bet, putting the raid into motion.
There has been no official confirmation of Feinblatt’s statement.
Members of Shaaban’s family said on Friday that Milhem stole the taxi driver’s cellphone after shooting him, and that investigators located him by tracking the phone.
There has been no official comment regarding that claim either.
On Friday, Israel Police Insp.- Gen. Roni Alsheich said the case is far from over as investigators work to piece together the timeline of events and who helped Nashat while he was on the run.
“The mission is not complete. The Israel Police and the Shin Bet will continue to work to systematically expose all accomplices and bring them to justice,” Alsheich said.
The escape of Nashat is the first major controversy Alsheich has faced as head of the police since he was sworn in as commissioner on December 3.
The former deputy head of the Shin Bet has received some criticism from the press for the paucity of statements from police commanders during the manhunt, including Alsheich, who gave his first statement on the search for Milhem five days after the Tel Aviv shooting. In the meantime, with a sweeping gag order on the entire case, the public was mainly fed information by WhatsApp rumors and reports in the press that were provided by Feinblatt and relatives and friends of the Milhem family.
There was a strong sense of fear in much of Tel Aviv in the first couple of days after the attack, in particular in north Tel Aviv, where at some daycare centers and schools more than half of the children were kept home by their parents out of fear for their safety. The tension didn’t last long, though, and already by Wednesday there were indications that the manhunt had shifted from the Tel Aviv area to Wadi Ara and the northern Triangle region, where Arara is located, especially after Alsheich imade his first comments on the search, in which he said, “I can say that now we can ease up on the pressure in the Dan region.”