An Arab Israeli citizen wanted for a Jan. 1 gun rampage in Tel Aviv was killed in a shootout with police on Friday, ending a week-long manhunt.
Local media showed pictures of Nashat Melhem’s body, with a submachine gun next to it, outside what they said was an abandoned building that had served as his hideout in his northern hometown, Arara.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated the security forces, which he said in a statement had “worked tirelessly, methodically and professionally to locate and eliminate the terrorist”.
Reflecting official uncertainty about the motive for the rare attack by an Arab Israeli, Netanyahu had in earlier public statements referred to the fugitive as a “murderer” rather than “terrorist”. His shift in terminology on Friday suggested authorities had evidence of an ideological motive.
Police said a special forces team closed in on Melhem’s hideout and killed him as he stormed out, shooting at them. There were no police casualties from the incident.
Melhem, whose age police gave as 31, was identified by relatives from CCTV footage of the Tel Aviv attack, where he was accused of killing two people in a central restaurant and a taxi driver whose vehicle he used to escape. Another three people were seriously hurt.
Melhem had previously spent four years in prison for assaulting an Israeli soldier, said his former lawyer, who also described Melhem as mentally unstable.
Commentators were divided on whether Melhem struck in Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial capital, out of pro-Palestinian sympathy or in loyalty to Islamic State, which in recent weeks has circulated messages threatening to attack Israel. Police said all angles were being checked.