As Manhunt for Tel Aviv Pub Shooter Continues, Police Piece Together Escape Route; Father Calls on Terrorist to Turn Himself In
On Day 4 of the manhunt for Nashat Melhem, the terrorist who opened fire on a Tel Aviv bar on Friday afternoon, killing two Israelis, wounding seven others and then murdering a taxi driver, Israel Police are coming closer to mapping out the route of his escape, the Hebrew news site Walla reported on Monday.
According to the report, after going on a shooting spree on Dizengoff Street at the “Simta” pub, Melhem is suspected of fleeing in a taxi. As he approached the city’s Namir Boulevard, Melhem saw a police blockade and told the driver to swerve off the road. The driver, later identified as Amin Shaaban, a 42-year-old Bedouin Israeli from the central city of Lod, purportedly refused and Melhem shot him to death, then took over the wheel.
Police further suspect that Melhem continued on to north Tel Aviv and threw Shaaban’s body out of the taxi, continuing on his journey until considering the cab as a liability. At this point, it is assumed, he abandoned the vehicle and continued his flight on foot.
A missing piece of the puzzle for police is whether Melhem took the same taxi to the scene of the attack and then used it to flee, or if he hailed it at random after going on his shooting spree. The latter would appear to be more likely, given testimony of three witnesses to the shootings from adjacent eateries, who said they chased the terrorist for several blocks, until he turned around and shot in their direction. At this point, apparently, they did not continue on their pursuit.
In addition, according to Hebrew press reports on Sunday, Melhem disposed of his cellphone, in order to keep police from being able to track his movements. The phone was reportedly found by an Israeli girl in a building in the Ramat Aviv neighborhood where police had been focusing their search.
An anonymous police source told Walla that Melhem, a 29-year-old Israeli Arab from the town of Arara in the north, is extremely dangerous. “There is no doubt that this man wouldn’t think twice before using his weapon to aid in his escape, and the fear is that he will strike again,” the source said.
As the search continued, Melhem’s father – the person who first recognized him on the security-camera footage released shortly after the attack, and whose weapon the terrorist allegedly stole to use in the attack – made a public appeal to his son on Monday to give himself up to police, Israel’s Channel 2 reported.
“Contact me, I’ll help you,” said his distraught father, a former volunteer in the police force. “Come on, let’s put an end to this saga. The family is going through a difficult period.”
This was not only in reference to the murders his son committed, but to the fact that two of his other sons are now in custody, being interrogated for possible involvement in the attack or other suspicious activities.
Nevertheless, according to Channel 2, Melhem’s father insists that his other two sons had nothing to do with the shooting attack, and that their arrests were for the purpose of applying pressure on the perpetrator.
“I respect the actions of the Shin Bet [internal security services] and the police,” he said. “But not to the extent that they can hurt [my] family members who had no connection to the incident [in question].”
He also reiterated his condemnation of his son’s actions and extended condolences to the bereaved families of 26-year-old Alon Bakal and 30-year-old Shimon Ruimi, as well as wishing the wounded a speedy recovery.
Meanwhile, another member of the Melhem family, Sami – a relative and a lawyer who represented Melhem in a previous case in which he was jailed for assaulting an IDF soldier – told Channel 2 on Sunday that the shooter was “mentally unstable.”
However, residents of Tel Aviv who knew Melhem when he worked in the area at a local grocery store say this is not true.
Eli Cohen, the owner of a shawarma stand in the Ramat Aviv neighborhood is one such witness.
“He was sane and a smiley guy,” Cohen told Israel’s Army Radio on Monday. “We used to joke around together once in a while. What they’re saying about his being mentally ill is completely bizarre.”