New Year’s Day shooting suspect killed by Israeli cops
Israeli-Arab Nashat Melhem shot dead at mosque in home town, bringing week-long manhunt to an end
A week-long manhunt that has gripped Israel since a fatal attack on a Tel Aviv bar has ended after the suspect was shot dead outside a mosque where he was hiding in his home town.
Hundreds of police had been seeking Nashat Melhem, an Israeli-Arab resident of Wadi Ara, in a controversial and high-profile search.
The 29-year-old was wanted for a gun attack on a bar on New Year’s Day that killed Alon Bakal, 26, and Shimon Ruimi, 30, and injured seven. During his escape Melhem allegedly murdered an Arab taxi driver who had stopped to pick him up.
The police spokeswoman Luba Samri said the gunman was found in a building. She said he came out shooting at Israeli forces and “was then shot and killed”.
Photographs showed Melhem’s body, dressed in black tracksuit bottoms and a T-shirt, lying next to a Falcon sub-machine gun, the same weapon allegedly used in the Tel Aviv attack.
The hunt for Melhem has dominated the news in Israel for days, with hourly updates.
It is unclear what Melhem’s motives were for the shooting despite suspicions it was linked to recent violence which has seen more than three months of near-daily Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers.
Unconfirmed reports in the Israeli media after his death suggested Melhem may have been inspired by Islamic State. He had, however, previously been jailed for assaulting an Israeli soldier and trying to snatch his gun, in revenge for the death of his cousin by police fire.
Melhem – who was identified as the Tel Aviv gunman by relatives from CCTV footage in the immediate aftermath of the attack – was shot dead at a mosque in the Wadi Ara town of Ar’ara, where he was hiding from authorities.
The shooting came at the end of a day that saw roadblocks and police reinforcements pour into Tel Aviv and neighbouring cities despite the fact that the focus of the hunt for Melhem had moved further north.
The shootings plunged Tel Aviv into a state of fear, with many parents in the city’s north initially keeping their children home from school.
During the search, relatives of Melhem – including his brother and his father, who had reportedly identified him to police – were arrested.
According to reports in the Israeli media, the domestic intelligence agency had established in recent days that Melhem was holed up in a building in the cluster of Israeli Arab towns known as the Triangle.
Initial reports said that when Shin Bet and police counter-terrorism officers arrived at the mosque at about 4.20pm on Friday, Melhem burst out of the building and opened fire on police before being shot dead in the return of fire.
The hunt itself caused friction, with Israeli Arabs complaining about police tactics. That led to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel asking the attorney general’s office to investigate complaints that police searched people’s houses without permission and without showing a search warrant.
The Israeli defence minister, Moshe Ya’alon, said Melham’s death “proved once again that the state of Israel will pursue until the end those who seek its harm, anywhere, within the country, along its borders, and far from them, and it will place its hands on them”.