Police Kill Suspected Tel Aviv Gunman in Northern Israel After Week-long Manhunt

Nashat Melhem, suspected of shooting dead three men in Tel Aviv, was killed by security forces in his hometown Arara.

Nashat Melhem, who is suspected of shooting dead three men in a Tel Aviv, was killed in firefight with security forces outside his hideout in hometown Arara.
Nashat Melhem, killed in firefight with security forces outside his hideout in hometown Arara, January 8, 2016. N/A

Nashat Melhem, the suspected gunman behind the Tel Aviv shooting last week, was shot dead in a firefight with police forces in his hometown of Arara in northern Israel on Friday. 

According to the police, officers from the Special Anti-Terror Unit closed in on the building Melhem was hiding in, when he stepped out and apparently tried to escape. Police said that Melhem opened fire at the officers, using the same type of gun used in the Tel Aviv shooting. Officers returned fire, killing Melhem instantly.

No officers were wounded.

From Melhem's appearance after he was shot down, police deduce that he had accomplices who supplied him with food and clothing. "Melhem didn't look like someone who was in hiding for a week without contact with anyone," sources in the police said.

The suspected assailant in the Tel Aviv shooting in a 2007 photo.
Itzik Ben-Malki

Sources close to the investigation said that in the last three days police interrogated several residents of the neighborhood, who said that they have seen Melhem. Investigators pinpointed his location thanks in part to technological means.

Police said they believe Melhem fled to northern Israel right after the attack in Tel Aviv, adding that information and evidence they retrieved shows that he was in the area at least in the last five days.

Police have arrested three people, some were suspected of aiding Melhem. They investigative team did has yet concluded if they helped Melhem plan the attack, or only were in touch with after the shooting in Tel Aviv and helped him hide.

A relative of Melhem said the family was not informed of the new intelligence concerning his whereabouts, but that around 11 AM large forces surrounded the town's Azharat neighborhood and went door-to-door in search of the suspected terrorist

Police search houses in Arara for suspected terrorist Nashat Melhem, January 8, 2016.
Gil Eliyahu

The raid was run by Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh, who was overseeing the operations from the nearby Iron police station together with other senior police officers. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated the police, the Shin Bet and the police anti-terrorism unit for "acting relentlessly, methodically, and professionally to locate and neutralize the terrorist."

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said that "the elimination of the terrorist Nashat Melhem proves once again that the State of Israel would pursue to the end its malefactors anywhere – within the state, along its borders and even far beyond them." 

The father of Alon Bakal, one of the victims in the Tel Aviv shooting, said he and his family were certain that Melhem would be caught soon. "I didn't doubt that for a second, I was sure they'll take down that wretch. I was very happy to hear that none of our guys suffered even a scratch, all our guys came back home safely and he got what he deserved," David Bakal said.

"It's no consolation at all," Bakal's aunt, Mazal Rahamim, said. "Our dear boy is gone and this won't bring him back. It's a bit calming for the public, which has been under bit of stress, but for us the loss is very grave."

Security forces in Ar'ara, January 8, 2016.
Gil Eliyahu

Attorney Mohammed Yunis, whose family resides near the house where Melhem was killed, said the neighborhood was in lockdown since Friday morning, and that security forces wouldn't let them leave their homes. "We understood that they had intelligence," he said.

After the shootout, Arara residents voiced regret that Melhem wasn't caught alive, leaving his motives for the attack unknown. Several youths took to the streets of the town in protest of Melhem's killing, chanting: "With blood, with fire, we'll avenge the martyr."

Arara resident Attorney Ahmed Hamza told Haaretz: "We would have been happier if there was a solution to the mystery – who did it, why he did it. This tarnishes the entire area, and the prime minister tarnished the entire [Israeli Arab] community which is loyal to the state. We would have expected the prime minister to be more responsible." 

Another resident, who wished to remain anonymous, said he would have wanted the police to pursue every murderer as much as they did Melhem. "They don't treat murders in the Arab community the same as a shooting in Tel Aviv. They shoot in the air here all the time, and no one cares. This week, we had police presence here and no one was shooting, no one was joy riding. We could sleep in peace."

Scene of a shooting attack in Tel Aviv that left two dead. January 1, 2016.
AP
Shooting at Tel Aviv bar.

Melhem was suspected of shooting dead two people at a bar in central Tel Aviv on January 1, and later killing a taxi driver in north Tel Aviv while making his escape. Seven other people were wounded in the attack in central Tel Aviv.

Melhem had served a prison sentence for assaulting an Israeli soldier and trying to snatch his gun, in revenge for the death of his cousin by police fire. 

Earlier on Friday, it was reported that the manhunt for Melhem was focusing on the Wadi Ara area in northern Israel. The police and Shin Bet security service believed Melhem was hiding either in Wadi Ara, where he lived, or the West Bank, and that an accomplice may have helped him escape.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel asked Deputy Attorney General Attorney Raz Nizri to investigate the conduct of the police during the search for Melhem in north Tel Aviv earlier this week. Arab residents reported that officers searched their apartments without permission and without showing a search warrant.