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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tel Aviv - Police: Gay center shooter 'avenged sexual assault of relative'

The 2009 shooting rampage at the Barnoar gay youth center in Tel Aviv was a revenge attack committed when a minor told a family member that he was raped by a gay activist who was a senior figure at the club, the police have revealed. The police are investigating the activist on suspicion of raping the minor.

Police initially lifted the gag order on the case on Monday, but media outlets were forced to remove the story from their websites within an hour of publication after it emerged that the court had not yet authorized the release of the details. The gag order was officially lifted on Tuesday morning.

For nearly four years, police have believed that the gunman who killed two people and wounded 15 others acted alone, which is why they had a difficult time finding clues. 

Police also couldn’t zero in on a motive for the crime, which also hampered the investigation. Only half a year ago, Jewish terrorist Jack Tytell was still being questioned in connection with the incident, even though it was clear to all the investigators that he was not the killer.

Resolution came from a totally unexpected place about four months ago, when a young man from the Pardes Katz neighborhood of Bnei Brak approached police and told them he knew who had committed the Barnoar killings. The young man, also an LGBT activist, was known to police, which is why at first they took what he was saying with a grain of salt. During the entire period of the investigation, the idea that criminals already known to the Tel Aviv District Police might have been involved was never explored.

Despite the initial reluctance to accept the young man's claims, the Tel Aviv Police decided to follow through with its policy with regard to the Barnoar attack and investigate the tip thoroughly. He was questioned by Central Unit detectives and told them that he knows the people who were involved in the attack. According to the youth, he had been a member of the responsible group, but recently his friends had started to act meanly to him and weren’t there for him when he needed them, so he decided to “sing.”

The youth asked for protection as a state’s witness, saying he feared for his life, and the police agreed only on condition that he provided them with information that proved he was serious.

A few months ago, a gun was found by hikers in a wooded area near Rosh Ha'ayin and sent for a ballistics examination by police. This determined beyond a doubt that this was indeed the weapon that had been fired in the Barnoar shooting.

The discovery of the gun was the first solid clue that Central Unit detectives, under the command of Cmdr. Gadi Eshed, had come upon, and yet the gun alone didn’t advance the investigation because it bore no evidence that could incriminate suspects.

The police agreed to make the young informer a state’s witness, and in return for enrolling him in the witness protection program the witness agreed to work undercover for the police until enough evidence could be collected against the suspects.

During the ensuing four months, the witness recorded the suspects talking about that night at Barnoar and their involvement. As time passed, the witness was also able to supply information regarding the motive for the killings.

A few months before the killings, one of the suspects, then 15 years old, was struggling with his sexual identity. The teen came to Barnoar, where he met with several counselors in his effort to find an easier way to cope. The teen was then sent to seek advice from a veteran Barnoar figure.

The senior activist was the fourth person to be arrested in the case last week, reportedly on suspicion of obstructing the investigation.

After a time, a relative of the teenager named Hagai Felician became aware that the teen had been seen a few times at Barnoar, and decided to ask him what he was doing there. In response, the teenager said that indeed, he had been going there, but that he was raped by the senior figure at the club, and was seeking a way to take revenge.

Felician allegedly decided to take matters into his own hands, and together with another suspect, named as Tarlan Tankishayev, and the state’s witness, plotted to harm the activist. They spent some time collecting weapons, rehearsing their getaway and planning the murder.

On the day of the shooting, Felician allegedly came to Barnoar. He entered the establishment wearing a stocking hat over his face and started looking for the activist. Felician, who couldn’t immediately locate his target, “lost it” and decided to take his revenge by simply spraying the place with gunfire. The shooting killed Liz Trubeshi, 16, and Nir Katz, 27.

The state witness is said to have helped Felician with planning his entrance and his getaway from the center.

The suspects have criminal histories and are know to the Tel Aviv Police. Some were members of a crime organization, and the Central Unit has information about crimes the suspects allegedly committed on behalf of that organization in the four years since the Barnoar incident.

The suspects had torched cars and businesses, and assaulted people whom the head of the organization believed owed him money. In fact, in 2011 the suspected gunman had even been targeted for assassination, and was lightly wounded by an assailant who shot at him while he was walking on a Bnei Brak street.

During the period the state’s witness was working for the detectives, however, there were no criminal acts committed, or at least not the type that would have justified exposing the witness, police said.

Around two months after the state’s witness started operating, when the Central Unit still didn’t have all the evidence investigators felt was needed, one of the suspects decided he was going abroad for a few months. The suspect even said that he might find work abroad and stay for an extended period of time. 

When this was learned, the investigative team was at a loss, believing the investigation would start to fall apart, but in the end the suspect decided to delay his flight so he could save more money. During the years since the shooting the primary work of the suspects was the egg trade.

A week before the arrests, the commander of the Central Unit flew abroad with his wife for a short vacation. While abroad, he learned that the gunman was starting to be suspicious of the state’s witness, and in conversations with others he was heard arguing that something about the state’s witness “didn’t look right.”

In consultation with incoming Tel Aviv Police Chief, Maj. Gen. Bentzi Sau, the Central Unit Commander and the head of the investigating team decided that the police had enough evidence to make the arrests, and it was preferable not to put the state’s witness at risk. The suspects were all arrested in Bnei Brak, while they were at work.

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