Police Say Tel Aviv Shooter Likely Killed Third Victim While Fleeing

On fourth day of manhunt, forces are focusing search in north Tel Aviv; ministers call on public to remain calm: 'The risk of car accidents is still incomparable to that of terrorism.'

Police searching for the perpetrator of Friday's attack in northern Tel Aviv, January 4, 2016.
Moti Milrod

Police said on Monday they have reason to believe that the gunman who killed two and wounded seven in a shooting spree in downtown Tel Aviv on Friday also murdered another man. 

A taxi driver found murdered near north Tel Aviv's Mandarin Hotel a short while after the attack seems to have been the third victim of 19-year-old Nashat Melhem, the suspected perpetrator of a shooting. Police were initially unsure if the murder of Amin Shaaban, the cab driver, was linked to the shooting.

Authorities also arrested on Monday a second, initially unidentified family member of Melhem whose attack on the pub left two Israelis dead and seven others wounded. Juadat Melhem, the brother of Nashat Melhem, was arrested on Friday in connection to the attack.

Amin Shaaban, a taxi driver who's body was found a short while after a shooting spree in central Tel Aviv, sitting on a motor bike.

The manhunt for Melhem continued Monday for a fourth day, with police trying to retrace the his tracks. Suspicious activity was reported in North Tel Aviv on Monday where a local resident approached the guards at a military base and said she had seen an individual run into a large field covered by vegetation. 

The soldiers briefly searched the area and found what appeared to be fresh footprints before a large police force, including a helicopter, hounds and mounted officers arrived on the scene to search the area more thoroughly.

Police believe Melhem is still in Tel Aviv, and that he is armed and dangerous, however they haven't yet ruled out the possibility that he may have left the area in a getaway prepared in advance. Police also said that they can not rule out the possibility that Melhen would stike againPolice and Shin Bet investigators said Sunday Melhem wasn't planning to return alive from the killing spree, and were investigating if he had an accomplice who knew of his plans in advance.

Police were searching for Melhem in the area of a commercial center he used to work in, in the northern Tel Aviv neighborhood of Ramat Aviv. Melhem's former employer told investigators that he used to do deliveries in the neighborhood, and was familiar with its streets and with several residents. Some in the neighborhood expressed concern that Melhem had prepared a hideout in the area in advance. 

Arab students at the nearby Tel Aviv University living in the area said police were searching their apartments and the university dorms rooms. They said security forces were mainly focusing on the rooms of students originally from Wadi Ara and the Triangle. Tarek Awad, one of the students, said police had also questioned Arab students immediately after Friday's shooting.

Border Policeman standing guard at the entrance of a school in Tel Aviv, January 3, 2015.

Police officials decided on Sunday to conduct searches for Melhem covertly in order to allay panic among the public. Security forces have also been stationed in crowded places throughout Tel Aviv.

Despite the concerns however, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called for calm during the operation to capture Melhem, saying, "Not everything can be concluded in 24 or 48 hours. I call on the public to continue with your daily routines. There's no reason to behave differently than any other day."

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said parents should keep sending their children to school despite the security concerns. "Unfortunately, the risk of car accidents is still incomparable to that of terrorism," he told Army Radio on Monday.

Erdan also chose to point out the dangers presented by car accidents over terrorist attacks.

"There are also lots of car accidents every day and unfortunately, in the last few months, also attacks," the public security minister told Army Radio, "but the state should not behave according to the intentions of terrorists of the probablities of car accidents."

MK Itzik Shmuli expressed consternation at Bennett and Erdan's remarks on traffic accidents. "I doubt that government ministers tell that to their families," he said. "Israeli citizens are murdered in the streets every day and all the no-answer governmnet says to them is that they should be consoled by the fact that the odds of being hurt in a car accident is higher?"

Tel Aviv educational institutions increased security Sunday with less 70 percent of students in a northern Tel Aviv high school staying home.

Two people were killed and seven were wounded in the shooting at the Simta bar, on the corner of Dizengoff and Gordon Streets in central Tel Aviv. The two killed in the attack were Alon Bakal, 26, a manager at the pub, Shimon Ruimi, 30, a resident of Ofakim. They were both laid to rest Sunday.