Suspected Tel Aviv Shooter Feared Hiding in West Bank, as Manhunt Continues

Partial lifting of gag order reveals police searching for Nashat Melhem in northern Israel, West Bank border while confirming he killed taxi driver after shooting attack.

Police search a wooded area of northern Tel Aviv for Nashat Melhem, the presumed perpetrator of the Jan.1 shooting on Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Street, on Jan. 4, 2016. The photograph shows three police officers, guns drawn, climbing a grassy hill with trees in the background.
Moti Milrod

The suspect behind the attack in Tel Aviv last Friday might be hiding in the West Bank, the police said Wednesday, confirming that he is also suspected of killing the taxi driver whose body was found in north Tel Aviv shortly after the shooting that killed two and wounded seven.

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

After parts of a gag order were lifted, the police and Shin Bet security service said search efforts were now focused on the border area between Israel proper and the West Bank.

Searches were also being carried out in north-central Israel in the so-called Triangle area bounded by Arab towns. The suspect, 29-year-old Nashat Melhem, is an Israeli Arab.

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 authorities also confirmed that the taxi driver found murdered near north Tel Aviv’s Mandarin Hotel was believed to be Melhem’s third victim. Police were initially unsure if the murder of Amin Shaaban, the cab driver, was linked to the shooting.

It is unclear how Melhem and Shaaban might have crossed paths or what sparked the taxi driver’s murder. In any case, investigators believe that Melhem aimed to use the cab to drive north, but after taking a wrong turn and heading toward central Tel Aviv, he abandoned the car.

Juadat Melhem, the suspect's brother, was arrested Friday, and his father was arrested Tuesday along with five other relatives and family friends. The brother was freed Wednesday.

On Monday, police said they believed that Melhem was still in Tel Aviv, and that he was armed and dangerous, but they did not rule out that he may have left the area in a getaway plan prepared in advance. Police also said they could not rule out that Melhem would strike again.

Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich said Tuesday that Israelis in central Israel could now worry less, suggesting that Melhem might be elsewhere.

Police and Shin Bet investigators have said Melhem wasn’t planning to return alive and were investigating if he had an accomplice who knew of his plans in advance. 

The attack Friday took place at the Simta bar on the corner of Dizengoff and Gordon streets in central Tel Aviv. The two killed were Alon Bakal, 26, a manager at the pub, and Shimon Ruimi, 30, a resident of Ofakim in the south. They were both laid to rest Sunday.

Melhem had served time in prison for trying to snatch a soldier's gun. During his interrogation in 2007, he said he wanted to avenge his cousin's death.