Police failed to follow up on a reported sighting of the terrorist Nashat Milhem in the aftermath of his New Year’s Day Tel Aviv shooting spree.
During the afternoon of Friday, January 1, Milhem opened fire at the Simta bar in central Tel Aviv, killing Alon Bakal and Shimon Ruimi. He then commandeered a taxi and killed driver Amin Shaaban, who he feared would turn him in, before abandoning the vehicle apparently because he couldn’t operate it.
Shortly after that, two young women saw Milhem in a bloodstained sweatshirt board a bus in northern Tel Aviv. They attempted to alert police but were ignored despite the massive manhunt launched by security forces after the attack, Israel Radio reported Wednesday.
“We recognized him from the distinctive glasses we saw him wearing in the photographs of the gunman on TV,” one of the two told the radio station. “He was leaning over a black duffle bag the whole time, and we also noticed small blood spatters on his sleeves.”
“When he got off the bus, the driver told him what connecting bus he needed to take to get to Wadi Ara” in northern Israel, one of the girls said. It was in his hometown in Wadi Ara that Milhem hid out after the attack, and it was there that he was killed in a shootout with police a week later.
The two told their boss, who called the police hotline repeatedly, but said that law enforcement officers never followed up on the calls.
“They told us that if we saw him on Friday, then our sighting wasn’t relevant to the investigation,” they said.
According to the report, police only looked into the girls’ tip after it Israel Radio alerted them to it.
In response to the report, police issued a statement saying that, although their hotlines were inundated by “thousands” of phone calls by tipsters in the hours after the attack, the girls’ report was given due attention.
“The calls were investigated in accordance with a range of variables taken into consideration,” the statement released Wednesday said. “The tip was investigated, and the bus driver as well as other relevant witnesses were questioned.”
According to the statement, Israel Police Chief Roni Alsheich has ordered an internal investigation of police’s handling of attack and the ensuing nationwide manhunt for Milhem. He was finally tracked down and confronted a full week after the killings, on January 8, and was shot dead when he fired on security forces who had come to arrest him.