No sign of suspected killer after shooting attack in central Tel Aviv

A gun shot hole in a glass window at the scene of a shooting attack at the Simta bar in central Tel Aviv, on Friday, January 1, 2016A gun shot hole in a glass window at the scene of a shooting attack at the Simta bar in central Tel Aviv, on Friday, January 1, 2016

More than 48 hours after he went on a rampage in central Tel Aviv, there was still no sign of 31-year-old Nashat Milhem, the gunman who killed two and wounded several others in a shooting attack on a pub on Dizengoff Street,  in the center of Tel Aviv, Friday afternoon.

Large numbers of undercover and uniformed police officers and agents from the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) continued to fan out across the Tel Aviv area on Sunday, focused largely in the northern parts of the city. The searches were especially heavy in Ramat Aviv, where the attacker’s cellphone was found on a sidewalk by a passerby not long after the attack, according to media reports on Sunday.

On Saturday, his brother Juedat Milhem was arrested on suspicion of being an accomplice to the attack.

Fear of the fugitive gunman led large numbers of parents to keep their children home from school on Sunday, especially in north Tel Aviv, not far from where Ayman Shaaban, a taxi driver from Lod, was murdered on Friday. Police believe Shaaban’s death is linked to the Dizengoff attack.

A gag order is still in place on the investigation of the shooting attack, and the same gag order secured on Friday also applies to the murder of Shaaban.

The public is advised to continue to be aware of their surroundings and to report suspicious activity, police said Sunday, adding that Milhem is considered armed and dangerous.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel cannot allow pockets of the country to have lax gun law enforcement, as he visited the site of the shooting on Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Street.

Shortly after police publicized the name of the suspected gunman, who is an Arab Israeli from the village of Arara, in northern Israel, Netanyahu spoke out about the need to fight incitement and increase law enforcement in Israeli-Arab areas.

“There are many among Muslim Israeli citizens who have come out against the violence and are crying out for full law enforcement in their towns. At the same time, we all know that there is wild incitement by radical Islam against the State of Israel in the Arab sector. Incitement in mosques, in the education system, on social media,” he said, vowing to continue efforts to stop the incitement.

The suspect in the January 1, 2016 shooting attack in Tel Aviv, 29-year-old Nashat Milhem, as seen after a 2007 arrest The suspect in the January 1, 2016 shooting attack in Tel Aviv, 29-year-old Nashat Milhem, as seen after a 2007 arrest

Netanyahu said he is unwilling to have a state within a state in Israel, in which some citizens live in “enclaves with no law enforcement, with Islamist incitement and an abundance of illegal weapons that are often fired at happy events, weddings, and during endless criminal incidents.” “That time is over,” he said.

He said he appreciated those in the Israeli Arab public who spoke out against the attack, serve in the IDF.

“I call on all Israeli citizens, and especially Muslim Israeli citizens, to follow this path, a path of integration, coexistence and peace, and not a path of incitement, hatred and zealotry. We are all citizens of the State,” he said.

Netanyahu also said he appreciated members of the Israeli Arab public who spoke out against the attack, and called on all Arab MKs to condemn it “without stuttering or using euphemisms; murder is murder and must be denounced.”

According to The Jerusalem Post, the characteristics of Friday’s shooting attack are different than any other terror attack that has hit Israel during the wave of violence that has plagued the country over the past three months.

In this instance, the assailant is an Israeli Arab resident of the Wadi Ara region, with a history that includes security-related crimes and a stint in prison, and according to members of his family – and a court ruling – he had been defined as “strange,” and “mentally unstable.” He acted calmly and fired indiscriminately in order to kill as many people as possible, and succeeded in escaping with his weapon before security forces arrived at the scene of the tragedy.

In 2008, he was arrested on suspicion that he had tried to snatch a soldier’s weapon and was sentenced in a plea bargain to five years in prison during which he was hospitalized and received psychiatric care.

“But even if the Tel Aviv shooter is mentally unstable, it is clear that he carried out the attack with a great deal of expertise,” the paper noted.

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel’s Middle East analyst, writes that the similarities to the November 13 attacks that killed 130 in Paris are obvious: the perpetrator’s flight, as well as his chosen target — young people sipping coffee on a bustling city street. “It is clear that the terrorist intended to survive, and continues (at least thus far) to flee for his life.”

He continues: “Was Nashat Milhem inspired by IS? Possibly. The Shin Bet busts cells or individuals planning to launch Islamic State-inspired attacks on an almost weekly basis. Islamic State succeeded in inspiring more than a few Arab Israelis to go fight in Syria and Iraq. It is possible others prefer to remain in Israel and murder apostates here, rather than make the long journey to the lands of IS.”

In daily Yedioth Aharonoth,  veteran pundit Ben-Dror Yemini posits that while extremist elements no doubt exist within Israel’s Arab communities, the large majority of the Arab public wholeheartedly rejects any form of violence. “The fact that only very few of Israel’s Arabs have turned to hostile activities, as opposed to demonstrations, is a badge of honor for both Jews and Arabs,” he writes.