Massive Manhunt Underway For Shooter Who Killed Two, Wounded Eight At Israeli Cafe

| by Nik Bonopartis
CCTV footage shows the shooter opening fire on a Tel Aviv bar from inside a neighboring grocery store on Jan. 1CCTV footage shows the shooter opening fire on a Tel Aviv bar from inside a neighboring grocery store on Jan. 1

Israeli police say a man calmly walked into a Tel Aviv grocery store on New Year's Day and browsed the store's fruit aisle like any other shopper. Then he pulled a machine pistol from his backpack and flashed a smile as he sprayed bullets indiscriminately at a bar next door.

The Jan. 1 shooting left two people dead and at least eight injured, and has prompted a massive manhunt for the alleged killer as investigators look into the possibility that the shooting was inspired by the Islamic State.

A witness told Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post that she was at the bar-cafe, sitting with friends and complaining about a sandwich that was taking too long to arrive, when she heard a gunshot and a man yelling "Get down!"

"Then I saw the gunman standing right in front of me," the witness said. "He had a black jacket, black hair, a goatee, and he was holding his rifle with two hands. We dropped to the floor and I remember the smile on his face."

The witness added that "people were collapsing because of the stress" while others chased the gunman after he stopped shooting.

A tweet on Dec. 31 warned of an attack on Tel Aviv, according to the Daily Mail, and ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi recently threatened to attack Israel. Despite that threat, the Islamic State has not claimed responsibility for the attack, and an Israeli police spokesman said investigators were still looking into potential terrorist links.

"What I know is that an individual came here and opened fire," Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai told media, reported The Jerusalem Post. "This appears to be motivated by nationalism. Tel Aviv has been a target in the past, and here it is rearing its ugly head again."

Nashad Milkham, 29, was named as the shooter in media reports after he was allegedly identified by his father, an Israeli police volunteer who watched CCTV footage of the shooting, Daily Mail reported. Milkham was arrested in 2007 for trying to take a gun from an Israeli soldier, and a court psychiatrist described him as a "young man with personality disorder and problems with drugs and alcohol."

The newspaper also reported that Milkham may have become radicalized after he witnessed an Israeli police officer shoot and kill his cousin. Daily Mail said the officer was convicted in the murder case, but did not say when the killing happened or offer additional details.

Witness Gali Morag told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that she saw the gunman dressed in black with a wool cap running away from the shooting scene as other witnesses chased after him.

Milkham allegedly dumped the gun — which was alternately described in media reports as an M16 or an "Italian-made" submachine gun — in a nearby garbage bin as he made his escape, reported Daily Mail. Investigators also found a Koran in a bag they believe belonged to the suspect, according to Haaretz.

Cops detained one suspect, but said the shooter remains at large. They warned Israelis to stay away from the central Tel Aviv neighborhood as officers were out in full force, combing the nearby buildings and streets for the shooter.

"All possible angles are being investigated," police spokeswoman Luba Samri said, according to Daily Mail. "Large-scale police forces are conducting searches for him."

Witness Osnat David, who owns a hair salon near the pub, huddled in the salon's storage room with a handful of customers until the gunshots stopped, Daily Mail reported. She said she was smoking a cigarette outside and walked back into her salon about two minutes before the shooter opened fire.

"If I were there when it happened," she said, "I would have been dead."

Sources: Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, Times of Israel, Daily Mail / Photo credit: Daily Mail