The failure of a massive police-security forces manhunt to capture Nashat Melhem five days after he murdered three people in Tel Aviv, ran into a further impediment Tuesday, Jan. 5: A 20-year old Palestinian from the lawless Jerusalem village of Issawiya decided to be a “second Melhem,” inspired to by the gunman’s success in eluding capture after a murderous terror attack in the heart of Tel Aviv. Ahmed Hatib, after a row with his family, took a car and drove to Herzliya, an upscale town north of Tel Aviv, smashing through a police and IDF roadblock outside Jerusalem.
He was captured soon after his car was found in the center of the town and his mobile on a side street. But first, the Tel Aviv searchers were forced to split up and rush a substantial team to Herzliya to hunt the copycat plotter before he struck.
This unforeseen event may have induced Police Commissioner Ronnie Alsheikh to finally break his silence after five days. He revealed very little: The search for the Dizengoff gunman had been expanded outside the city’s metropolitan boundaries, he said. The gunman, he confirmed, was guilty of three murders last Friday, two Israeli men and an Arab cab driver found dead an hour later.
The police chief urged Tel Aviv residents, who have lived in a high state of hysteria over a dangerous armed terrorist on the loose, to calm down. But he offered no reassurances and refused to answer questions.
Three Jerusalem Palestinian suburbs are hotbeds of crime and terror, in which police rarely set foot except in very large numbers with drawn guns. They are Issawiya, Shuafat and Kalandia. The last place is just outside city limits to the north.
Israel’s anti-terror authorities will have to get ready for copycat attacks being prompted by their continuous failure to lay hands on Melhem. Tuesday morning, they detained his father and another half dozen close relatives, after keeping his two brothers in custody for three days. His father was charged with belonging to an illegal organization and complicity in murder.
This step may also be aimed at bringing the vanished terrorist under pressure to turn himself in. If that is the case, debkafile’s sources doubt it will work. Melhem’s attack in Dizengoff and his escape were well planned and calculated in advance. He was ruthless enough to kill the taxi driver to silence a man who may have been an accomplice. Each day he manages to stay at large and elude the massive Israeli dragnet adds to his reputation as a super-terrorist and object of emulation.