JERUSALEM—Police helicopters hovered over upscale neighborhoods in Tel Aviv Monday while security forces on the ground went door-to-door in an intensive manhunt for a gunman who opened automatic gunfire on patrons of a pub Friday in the heart of Tel Aviv, killing two and wounding seven before disappearing.
What has alarmed residents of the city, particularly posh North Tel Aviv, is that the perpetrator, an Israeli Arab, has worked there for several years as a delivery man for a health food store and, according to his former employers, has an intimate knowledge of streets and buildings in the city. Police said they are looking into the possibility that he has commandeered an apartment and taken an elderly resident hostage or sequestered himself in an empty apartment he knew about.
Authorities warned that he is armed, dangerous and may strike again. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said he was keeping schools open but that that if parents wished to keep their children at home that was understandable.
The alleged killer, Nashat Milhem, 29, was identified by his elderly father, Muhammed, who saw his son in images from security cameras broadcast on Israel Television after the shooting. The elder Milhem, a police volunteer for 30 years, went to police in his Galilee village of Arara after seeing the video and said the shooter was his son. The gun belonged to the father, who had a license for it and normally kept it locked in a safe at home, police said the son is believed by police to also have killed an Arab taxi driver who apparently drove him away after he fled the scene on foot. The body of the driver was found an hour later in the northern part of the city. His taxi was found a short distance away.
Police have thus far refrained from calling the shootings a terrorist act, saying that Nashat Milhem’s motives are not yet known and that his modus operandi was not necessarily that of a terrorist. A relative told reporters that he is mentally unbalanced but his former employer said he did not show evidence of that.
Milhem was imprisoned for five years after he attacked a soldier in 2007 and tried to steal his weapon. He said at the time that he did so in revenge for a cousin who was killed by police a year before.
Footage of security cameras on Dizengoff Street, perhaps Tel Aviv’s best-known street, show Milhem walking casually with a knapsack on his back. He is then seen inside a food store on the street scooping up nuts into a bag, which he takes to the cashier. He evidently balks at the price, then carefully returns to empty the bag into the nut bin. Just before exiting the store, he pauses to put his backpack into a shopping cart and take something from it. He then steps quickly out the door and raises the weapon to his shoulder, raking patrons sitting at the pub’s outdoor tables about 20 yards away.
There have been scores of terror attacks in the past three months, almost all in Jerusalem and the West Bank. In almost every case, the perpetrator has been quickly shot, and often killed, by security forces or armed civilians. What is unusual about the Tel Aviv attack is that there was no armed civilian or security personnel in the vicinity and that the perpetrator escaped. Tel Aviv has a reputation as a laid-back city living in its own bubble. Presumably, citizens with licensed weapons will be taking them now when they walk the dog, at least for awhile.