Three Killed in Tel Aviv Attack Declared Victims of Terror

Haifa court extends the remands of five suspected of aiding the gunman, Neshat Melhem.

Mourners place candles at the scene of a deadly shooting attack in downtown Tel Aviv on January 2, 2016.
Ofer Vaknin

The Defense Ministry on Saturday decided to recognize three people shot dead by an Israeli Arab gunman in Tel Aviv last week as victims of terrorism. 

Meanwhile, a Haifa court extended the detention of five people suspected of aiding the gunman, Nashat Melhem.

Recognizing those killed as victims of terrorism entitles their families to benefits. The decision was reached as per the recommendation of the Israel Police, after Melhem was killed by security forces in northern Israel on Friday

Melhem shot two victims, Alon Bakal and Shimon Ruimi, at a bar in central Tel Aviv on January 1. Seven others were wounded in the attack. The third victim, Amin Shaaban, a taxi driver, was killed by Melhem in northern Tel Aviv as he was making his escape.

Two of the seven wounded in the shooting spree are still hospitalized at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv. One of them is in moderate condition in the intensive care unit, and the other is in light-to-moderate condition in the neurology ward.

Court extends remand of five suspects

A man suspected of aiding the Tel Aviv gunman, in court, January 9, 2016.
Rami Shllus

Also on Saturday, a Haifa court granted a police request to extend the remands of five suspects arrested in connection with the shooting. Four are to remain in custody until Tuesday while the fifth is to be jailed until Monday.

All five are suspected of membership in an illegal organization, conspiracy to commit a crime and aiding a crime.

One of the suspects said prior to the hearing that a young man from the village had told him "a story that made no sense, that he had met Nashat, who was sleeping on a roof." He said that he never reported the incident to the police because "it didn't make sense."

Shadi Younis, a lawyer representing two of the suspects, said that the police sought to extend their detention for 10 days, but the court only agreed to three. He said he has yet to meet with his clients due to a warrant that forbids it. "Clearly a basic right is being violated, but there is a warrant," he said. Both suspects were arrested on Friday morning.

Jamal Khatib, an attorney representing a third suspect, said that he was arrested after his family members refused to allow a police tracking dog in the house due to religious grounds.

Some residents of Arara may have seen Melhem there, but were afraid to call the police, Khatib suggested. "Anyone would fear for his life because Melhem carried out a violent act," he said. The police have no clear line of interrogation, he added, while clearly stating that his client had no knowledge of Melhem's presence in the village.

Attorney Mohammad Mahajne, who represents two other suspects, said that while one of his clients did in fact know Melhem, the second only heard of him. Mahajne noted that he had met with his clients as per their request before they had been arrested, but a gag order prevents him from explaining why. None of the five suspects have any connection to the shooting, he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin on Saturday expressed gratitude to the security forces for how they handled the shooting investigation.  

Netanyahu thanked the security forces "on behalf of all the citizens of Israel."

"Anyone who seeks to murder Israelis should know that sooner or later, we will reach him, within the state's borders and outside the state's borders," he said. "No one is immune. We will reach the murderers and we will reach anyone who helps them."

Rivlin expressed his support "for the members of the security services who worked night and day over the last week — even more so than normal." 

"We will not bow our heads in the face of the depraved terror we are facing in this difficult period. We will continue to choose life, even when in pain, even when the price we pay is heavy and so very difficult," the president said.

Hamas released a statement saying that "the hero Nashat Melhem put the occupier in a state of uncertainty for almost a full week and broke the myth that is the Israeli security establishment."

Hossam Badran, a spokesman for Hamas in Qatar, said that Melhem exemplified how a Palestinian fighting for his freedom sacrifices himself for his people.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza also praised Melhem over the weekend; however, the organization did not claim he was a Hamas member.

The Palestinian Authority, on the other hand, did not issue an official statement after Melhem's killing. The Palestinian Health Ministry only said that Melhem was not included in their list of "Palestinian martyrs."

A small mourning tent was erected on Saturday morning by Melhem's family members in Ara, the northern Israeli village where they reside. Few people stopped by the tent, and the family inside refused to speak to reporters, evidently to avoid aggrandizing the event.

Another mourning tent was erected by residents at the entrance to the Jerusalem neighborhood of A-Ram on Saturday morning. This was a private initiative by residents living there.

Ido Efrati contributed to this report.