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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Activist in Israel's gay community arrested (Not Haredi) over deadly 2009 attack on Tel Aviv Gay center

Israel Police early Thursday arrested a fourth suspect in connection with the 2009 attack on a gay youth center, which left two people dead and shocked the country.

The latest suspect is apparently an activist in the gay community and has been detained for allegedly knowing the motivation for the murders and obstructing the investigation by not sharing that information with police.

Three other suspects were arrested in connection to the murders themselves on Wednesday. 

All four suspects appeared before a Tel Aviv court on Thursday for a hearing, just one day before Tel Aviv's annual Gay Pride Parade.

The court extended the remands of the three murder suspects by 11 days. The fourth suspect was remanded by another four days.

Police said they have ruled out the possibility that the shooting was a hate crime. Rather, they think the motive was personal - most likely, that one of the suspects sought to harm someone he believed was in the club at the time.

All of the initial three suspects are Jews between the ages of 20 and 40 who live in central Israel and have known each other for years. A gag order remains in force on most details of the case. 

Tel Aviv police chief Bentzi Sau explained that police still have much work to do, and that he does not yet want to release additional details.

On August 1, 2009, an armed man entered the Bar Noar - a club in Tel Aviv for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth - and shot and killed Nir Katz, 27, who worked as a counselor there, and Liz Trubeshi, 16. Dozens of other teens were wounded, and two of them remain wheelchair-bound to this day.

The Tel Aviv police's central unit was given an unlimited budget to pursue the case, and the investigation turned into one of the most expensive ever carried out in Israel. Anyone who was mentioned in connection with the shooting was called in for questioning, and ultimately more than 1,000 people were interrogated.

A break occurred recently when police found a pistol that they suspect was the murder weapon.

Katz's mother, Ayala, said she had mixed feelings on hearing of the arrests. "It's not simple; it brings us back to that day," she said. "And it doesn't change the fact that my son is gone."

Moreover, she added, while she hopes police have indeed caught the murderer, "questions still remain at this stage."

MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), who is himself gay, welcomed news of the arrests. "The unsolved slaughter at the Bar Noar has cast a heavy shadow for almost four years, not just over the gay community, but over Israeli society as a whole," he said. "Reactions to the murder by various people revealed the depth of hatred toward the gay community. ... It must be hoped that the law enforcement system has indeed managed to put its hands on those responsible for this terrible act."

The murder took place on a Saturday night, when the club, located at the corner of Nahmani and Ahad Ha'am streets, was holding an event. 

The murderer, who was wearing a stocking mask, appeared in the doorway and began shooting in all directions. He fled, leaving no clues to his identity.

"At about 10:40 P.M., someone all in black arrived," one of the teens who was wounded related on the night of the shooting. "He had a black mask and black clothing. I thought it was a joke, but he immediately began to shoot."

The club is very small, he noted. "There's a balcony outside, but anyone who's inside has no place to run. People hid under the bed and the tables, but there were no shouts. I hid under a table with someone else."

Over the ensuing four years, police believed several times they had found clues that would lead them to the murderers.

Once was in October 2009, when the Shin Bet security service arrested Jewish terrorist Jack Tytell, who was convicted earlier this year of murdering two Palestinians in 1997, as well as two counts of attempted murder and various other crimes. 

Tytell initially told his interrogators he had committed the Bar Noar murder. But after repeated interrogations, police concluded he actually had nothing to do with the attack.

Another time was in December 2009, when Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch announced that police had just uncovered a lead that could solve the murder. But a gag order was slapped on the details, and what that lead consisted of remains unknown to this day.

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