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Police suspect Tel Aviv terrorist's family hid him

Manhunt turns to Wadi Ara region in north, as lethal shooter's father and family are arrested on suspicions of aiding his escape.

Ari Yashar,

Nashat Melhem
Nashat Melhem
Handout photo

Police have arrested the father and several family members and acquaintances of the Arab Israeli terrorist Nashat Melhem, who murdered at least two in Tel Aviv on Friday and wound several others, with suspicions high that the family hid Melhem.

It is suspected that Melhem, an Arab citizen of Israel, was given shelter by his family in Wadi Ara in the north, with police on Tuesday said to now be focusing their search on that region.

Melhem's father Mohammed was arrested on Tuesday morning, under suspicion of accessory to murder, manslaughter, forming an illegal group and having connections to a crime. His arrest was later extended by two days. The terrorist's mother was also detained for questioning before later being released.

In addition five others were arrested, two of them family members of the terrorist and three others acquaintances of his. Among them was a man who worked with Nashat Melhem at a construction site in Tel Aviv.

Two of Melhem's brothers were also arrested in the last three days on similar suspicions to those leveled against his father, although the Haifa Magistrate's Court on Tuesday ordered police to release one brother, Juadat, to house arrest, after his detention had already been extended once.

Police reportedly estimate that those who were arrested helped the terrorist escape from the Tel Aviv area and hide, and therefore searches have begun in the Wadi Ara region on Tuesday.

The terrorist intentionally threw away his phone before carrying out the attack, showing his cunning in making it harder to track him. Police believe he contacted his family through other means after having ditched his phone.

Nahmi Feinblat, the lawyer of Mohammed Melhem, told Walla on Tuesday that the arrest of Melhem's father and family members is meant to pressure the terrorist to turn himself in. According to the lawyer the Israeli Security Agency (ISA) is under pressure to catch the terrorist before he strikes again, and therefore it is targeting the family as a pressure tool.

Melhem's father Mohammed on Monday called for his son to turn himself in to authorities, and initially he reported to police that it was his son who conducted the shooting, in which Nashat murdered two people in a Tel Aviv pub. An hour later he apparently murdered a taxi driver as well.

Mohammed Melhem previously volunteered in the police and has a weapon license. In July 2007, when Melhem was convicted of attempting to steal a soldier's gun at Karkur Junction to the east of Hadera, his father got him out of jail by asking that he be released to his supervision.

Apparently the authorities saw nothing wrong with the proposal, and let Melhem go despite his attempt to steal a gun and potentially conduct a lethal shooting spree, and despite his misconduct in prison.

Officers who guarded Melhem at the time revealed their shock that he was released, given his misconduct in jail. They also confirmed the appraisals that Melhem is not mentally ill as his family insists, appraisals given by residents of Ramat Aviv in northern Tel Aviv where Melhem worked as a delivery boy at a vegetable store until 2008.