TEL AVIV – One week after carrying out a deadly shooting attack at a Tel Aviv pub, the suspected gunmen, Nashat Melhem, was killed after raising a weapon to police forces in his hometown in northern Israel on Friday.
According to the police, officers from the Special Anti-Terror Unit closed in on the building Melhem was hiding in, when he stepped out and apparently tried to escape. Police said that Melhem raised his gun, of the same type used in the Tel Aviv shooting, and aimed at the officers. Officers opened fire, killing Melhem instantly.
No officers were wounded.
From Melhem’s appearance after he was shot down, police deduce that he had accomplices who supplied him with food and clothing. “Melhem didn’t look like someone who was in hiding for a week without contact with anyone,” sources in the police said.
Information obtained by Ynet’s security affairs correspondent, Ron Ben-Yishai, indicates:
Melhem had been in Arara since the previous Friday, the day of the attack, and changed hiding places twice. He was apparently aided by family members, and perhaps by members of the Islamic Movement. This morning, the indication of his exact location came in, and the operation that ended in Melhem’s death began.
The idea that Melhem was hiding in Arara had been gaining strength among the Shin-Bet since Wednesday. Intelligence bodies, including the Shin-Bet, saw several structures which could be hiding spots after analyzing testimony by his friends and associates who were questioned in the past few days.
On Friday morning, a more focused intelligence report on the structure Melhem was occupying came in. Before raiding the building, larger numbers of police and IDF forces closed down the surrounding area.
There are significant questions about Melhem’s attack, his motivation and whether he was a member of any organized terrorist organization, such as the Islamic State.
At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss the perpetrator as a deranged individual acting on his own but the known information points to more.
Melhem is known to the security establishment here. He was jailed for five years for a 2007 attack on an Israeli soldier in which he attempted to grab the soldier’s rifle after assaulting the victim with a screwdriver.
Israel’s Ynetnews website reported on Melhem’s seeming emotional problems.
Apparently, Melhem several times requested anger management therapy while he was in Israeli prison, but the prisoner services repeatedly denied the petitions.
Also, his lawyer and family had asked that the court treat him as mentally unstable.
Those requests were also rejected even though the judge in the case, Justice Tzila Keinan, ruled at the time that Melhem’s “behavior stems from a mental disorder.”
Keinan wrote in a ruling:
“While it was not proven that the accused suffers from a mental illness that excludes criminal responsibility, the same documentation shows that this is a ‘guy with a personality disorder, and based on psychological testing he has a full-fledged personality disorder, including drug and alcohol use from a young age and criminal behavior involving drugs, which led him to serve jail time a year ago.”
Keinen found that Melhem’s 2007 attack was not motivated by nationalism but rather by “a mental disorder that was aggravated by drug use.”
However, Melhem reportedly admitted his motivation for the 2007 attack was to avenge his cousin, who was killed during a police raid in 2006 and was found to be illegally storing weapons.
Amos Harel of Haaretz write an article describing why Melhem’s assault is unusual for the current so-called wave of terrorism.
If it was a terror attack, however, the events are uncharacteristic of the terror attacks in recent months. Not only was the suspected assailant an Israeli citizen (although several recent assailants have held Israeli IDs), but he used a firearm and attacked in the heart the country. Most extraordinarily, he immediately fled the scene of the attack rather than stay to maximize
Was Melhem directed by any terrorist group or was he possibly independently motivated by Islamic State ideology?
Last week, Breitbart Jerusalem quoted one top Islamic State-aligned militant rejoicing at the possibility that the perpetrator was inspired by IS ideology while claiming his group never heard of Melhem prior to the attack.
“We hope it will emerge that the brother who carried out the operation will turn out to be a fighter for IS, or at least inspired by it, like the American couple [who carried out last month’s shooting in San Bernardino, California],” Abu al-Ayna Al-Ansari, a jihadi leader in Gaza affiliated with IS ideology, told Breitbart Jerusalem.
The Times of Israel reports on Melhem’s noticeably calm demeanor just prior to the Tel Aviv attack in which two civilians were killed and seven were wounded, some seriously.
The newspaper reported:
New security camera video released Saturday showed Melhem walking calmly along Dizengoff Street minutes before the attack. Earlier footage showed him in a natural foods store, and stepping out to carry out the attack.
Footage from the scene of the attack shows people sitting in a cafe on the popular Dizengoff Street, and running for cover when the gunfire begins. The gunman can be seen coming into shot, as he sprays the street with his automatic weapon.
He had been filmed moments earlier in a natural foods grocery store, calmly removing the murder weapon from his backpack and stepping into the street.
Eye witnesses to the carnage described a calm assailant who seemed to have had an escape plan in place. Melhem’s cool behavior before and during the attack may indicate some level of military training, or at least preparedness for the assault.
Mental instability does not explain this behavior. Melhem was able to obtain a firearm and ammunition, arrive at the target, calmly stake out the scene of the attack, shoot up a chaotic café without panicking and then escape a major police dragnet.
It is instructive to note that a Koran was reportedly found in Melhem’s backpack, possibly evidencing Islamic motivation and not merely mental illness.
In recent weeks, Israeli and Palestinian security services have clamped down on cells of Salafists who reportedly joined the Islamic State. Some of those extremists were Israeli Arabs from northern Israel.
Israel’s Shin Bet security agency in December announced the arrest of Israeli Arab youths from Nazareth for declaring allegiance to the Islamic State. The Shin Bet said that during interrogations “it emerged that, in the past year, the youths obtained firearms and trained with them, while becoming more devout during meetings they held. They expressed support for ISIS [Islamic State], and praised the jihad against infidels.”
Two weeks ago, two cousins accused of being Islamic State operatives were arrested in the Nazareth area on suspicion of plotting attacks in northern Israel.
It is significant that the same night as Melhem’s attack, Salafists in the Gaza Strip allied with IS ideology claimed responsibility for firing 5 rockets form Gaza into southern Israel.
Melhem’s attack also happens to follow a call-to-arms broadcast two weeks ago by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the self-declared Islamic State, who threatened in a rare audio recording to turn Israel into a “graveyard.”
Israel is also on heightened alert due to threats of retaliation from the Iranian-backed Hezbollah for the elimination last month of Samir Kuntar, perpetrator of one of the most brutal terror attacks in Israeli history.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.