Nashat Milhem, the Israeli Arab who killed three Israelis in Tel Aviv on January 1 and was shot dead in a gun-battle with security forces in his home village of Arara a week later, was a terrorist acting out of “nationalistic” motives, Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said on Saturday night.
Erdan said Milhem received assistance in escaping Tel Aviv on January 1 and, especially, as he hid out in the Arara area for a full week before he was confronted and killed on Friday afternoon. The wider operation against those who helped him “is continuing even as we speak,” Erdan said on Channel 2 news on Saturday night.
Channel 10 news reported that up to 15 alleged accomplices are either under arrest or being sought.
Channel 2 reported that initial indications are that Milhem was not part of a Hamas, Islamic State or any other formal terrorist group, and had chosen to go out and kill Israelis in Tel Aviv of his own volition.
Amid rumors that the Simta Bar or someone in it had been specifically targeted, the Channel 2 TV report said all indications were that Milhem, 29, had not deliberately targeted anyone in particular when he opened fire on Dizengoff Street on January 1. Alon Bakal and Shimon Ruimi were gunned down at the bar. Cab driver Amin Shaaban was killed by Milhem as he made his escape.
Erdan brushed away allegations that the fugitive had made a fool of his pursuers by evading them for a week, and drew repeated comparisons between Milhem and Osama bin Laden. “It took years to catch bin-Laden,” Erdan said, reiterating the comparison when his interviewer queried its appropriateness.
He said that Milhem had proved himself to be “pretty smart,” that he managed to escape the scene of his crime, that he could easily have struck again, and that the security forces deserved praise for “succeeding in eliminating him” in a week with no further casualties. “It could have ended very differently,” said Erdan.
Nonetheless, said Erdan, the police and security forces would “learn any lessons” to ensure that their operational abilities were improved wherever possible.