Report: Police Acted Properly in Melhem Investigation

Israeli special forces policemen patrol the streets during a search for Arab citizen Nashat Melhem in the northern town of Arara, Israel January 8, 2016. (Gil Eliyahu/Jinipix/Reuters)
Israeli special forces policemen patrol the streets during a search for Arab citizen Nashat Melhem in the northern town of Arara, Jan. 8. (Gil Eliyahu/Jinipix/Reuters)

Police acted properly in their investigation and eventual capture of Nashat Melhem, the terrorist who killed three people in central Tel Aviv on January 1. According to the report of the police investigative unit that reviewed the actions of officers, it was the arrest of associates of Melhem that led police to uncover his hiding place and eventually kill him.

Melhem was found a week after he killed three people – two Israeli patrons at a café in central Tel Aviv, and an Israeli Arab cab driver in north Tel Aviv – and immediately, it was later discovered, escaped to his hometown of Arara. For days after the attack, police scoured northern Tel Aviv, ostensibly looking for Melhem – but Sunday’s police report states that police were actually looking for Arab workers in the area who may have helped the terrorist. Several people were arrested, the report said, and one person supplied vital information that led to Melhem’s arrest. 

Shin Bet officials revealed on Motzoei Shabbos that it was clear to them that Melhem had returned to the Arara area and that they had kept up the pretense of searching for him in Tel Aviv in the hope that he would make a careless mistake that would allow them to target his exact whereabouts.

Officials noted that it appeared that “many” people – at least several dozen – had known that Melhem was in Arara, and provided him with hiding places, security, food, and other assistance to enable him to remain in hiding. Throughout the week, Arabs in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas celebrated Melhem’s successful evasion of police, calling him a “martyr” and “hero.”

Security forces combed the country for a week, looking for clues that would indicate where Melhem had escaped to after his shooting rampage in Tel Aviv, but according to sources it was a mistake by one of his accomplices – who made a call using a cellphone that belonged to the murdered cab driver – that tipped off security forces as to his whereabouts.

The report said that police received hundreds of phone calls in the hours after the attack, with people claiming to have seen the terrorist. One of the calls, which turned out to be accurate, reached the police out in the field only five hours after the attack, and police followed up on it appropriately, the report said.

The report said that there was one major problem with the investigation; when police were investigating in the various locations, including Tel Aviv and Arara, technological limitations prevented them from getting immediate updates on the status of each team’s investigation. The report said that police has begun resolving this issue.