Police Call Center Ignored Reported Spotting of Tel Aviv Gunman After Attack

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Nashat Melhem, suspected of killing three in Tel Aviv on January 1, in a Hadera courtroom in 2007. He was killed in a shoot-out with security forces last Friday.
Melhem, in a Hadera court in 2007. Lawyer Buerat said the family is trying to arrange a quiet burial “without noise.” Credit: Itzik Ben-Malki

A series of missteps was revealed on Wednesday, shedding light on the circumstances surrounding the escape and late capture of Nashat Melhem, who killed three people in the center of Tel Aviv last month.

After escaping from the murder scene on Dizengoff Street, Melhem killed taxi driver Amin Sha’aban, taking his taxi and then abandoning it at the Glilot junction. From there he took a bus heading north. According to a report on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet station, Melhem aroused the suspicion of two young women on the bus. They called the police but were ignored.

According to this report, the two sisters sat next to Melhem, noticing his unusual glasses. They said that he seemed stressed and his clothes had blood stains on them. The way he looked scared them and they wanted to get off the bus, but the driver told them that the suspicious person was getting off soon anyway. When he got off the two heard the driver telling him that from that station he could travel to Wadi Ara.

That evening, when the assailant’s photo was published, the sisters thought it was the man who was sitting beside them on the bus. They told one of their employers and he called the 100 police call center. He was told that someone would “get back to him.” By midnight, when no one had contacted him, he called again. They directed him to the 110 center which deals with urgent matters. He was put on hold for thirty minutes and gave up after that. Two days after the attack one of the sisters called the police but she too was directed to the 110 center. She then went to the Zvulun police station close to her home. She was told that if no one had called back it meant that their call was irrelevant. 

The employer notified the radio station’s correspondent Carmela Menashe, and her story was aired a short time after Melhem was apprehended. The sisters’ report was looked into and found to be correct only after Melhem’s death during a raid on his hideout, when the incident was analyzed. According to the radio report, the police gathered the sisters’ testimony only after radio correspondents Menashe and Liran Kogahinoff turned to a senior police officer who was involved in the investigation.

A police spokesman said in response that the sisters’ call “had come several hours after the incident and after they had alighted from the bus. It was one of thousands of calls received by the police in the matter, and was dealt with according to a large array of variables and the nature of the information, its relevance at the time it was given and more.” The police said that “the call was investigated and despite the lack of clarity action was taken, including locating the bus driver and the questioning of relevant witnesses, as was done with other calls, in order to consolidate our understanding of the situation.”

Police added that at the end of the operation Commissioner Roni Alsheikh ordered a comprehensive investigation by the chief of operations, in order to examine the conduct of all departments and forces that participated in the operation, including call centers and their responses to the thousands of citizens who had called. “The findings and lessons will be studied and ratified, including making any required technological improvement.”

Police Maj. Gen. Aharon Aksol called the report a "storm in a teacup." Even if the two women had been debriefed, it wouldn't have changed police activities, he said. "I want to remind that the possibility that Nashat was in the north was considered. At the same evening, police anti-terror units raised houses in Wadi Ara," Akso said. 

Also on Wednesday, the Shin Bet said that Melhem was planning another attack in the city of Afula, after he escaped Tel Aviv. The information was revealed after charges were filed in the Haifa District Court against three residents of the Arab village of Arara for allegedly abetting Nashat Melhem after his murderous attack on Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv on January 1.

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