On Tuesday, one day after the farce surrounding the lifting and restoring the gag order on the details of the case, the gag order on the publication of the name of the main suspect in the 2009 youth center shooting was lifted. Police said 23-year-old Pardes Katz resident Hagai Felician is suspected of shooting two people dead.
- Judge restores gag order on Barnoar investigation
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A 19-year-old relative of Felician and their associate Tarlan Hankishayev, both also residents of Pardes Katz, are suspected of assisting Felician. The name of the fourth suspect, a prominent activist within the gay community, remains under gag order.
It has been also cleared for publication that Felician carried out the deadly attack to avenge the sexual abuse of his 15-year-old relative by a grown man he expected to be at the center.
Nir Katz, 26, and Liz Trubeshi, 16 were killed on the August 1, 2009 when a veiled man entered the Barnoar LGBT youth center in Tel Aviv and began shooting at the teens gathered there. Eleven others were injured.
The scene of the killings (Photo: AP)
Nobody had any leads, until a breakthrough came six months ago – investigators found a gun buried in a grove in Rosh Hayin. Forensic examination at national police headquarters left no doubt – this was the gun used by the killer at Barnoar. But even this was not enough. The gun had no fingerprints or DNA. Then, three months ago, a crucial phone call came from jail.
From this point, police began tracking suspects, and officers from Tel Aviv’s Central Unit, under Commander Gadi Eshed, knew they had collected incriminating evidence that would lead to an indictment. The motive, they explained, was a crime committed against a relative of the main suspect. Investigators, led by Chief Superintendent Nissim Daudi, claimed that every one of the three suspects – who knew the neighborhood well and had criminal record – had a role in the incident. Investigators have now laid out the full story – the planning, how the attack was carried out, and how the story behind the Barnoar massacre remained hidden for years.
The investigation revealed that two weeks before the murder, Felician learned that his teen relative had been molested (something that both the teen and the suspect in the molestation, a known LGBT activist, deny). Once he learned this, the three suspects began planning revenge. With this in mind, Felician made contact with his friend, a criminal who was openly gay and serving time in prison – and the man who was to turn state’s witness. Felician asked his friend for information about the man suspected of molestation.
According to information provided to the police, the soon-to-turn state’s witness told the three that the man they suspected of molestation was supposed to be at Barnoar one evening in early August. He also lent Felician a mask from his home, delivered via a relative, and used by the killer during the shooting.
When he finally became state’s witness, the man told investigators that the three suspects had approached him, and requested he assist them in getting revenge on the gay activist, the man they suspected of molestation. According to the state’s witness, he thought the three wanted to beat him up.
The three key suspects continued gathering information on Barnoar and following the activities of the gay activist. On the evening of the murders, Felician arrived at the youth center wearing black, a mask, and armed with a gun – and shot those present.
After this he fled on foot, until Hankishayev and a relative picked him up in their car. The three allegedly agreed not to talk about the incident ever again. They got rid of the gun, and Hankishayev even reported to his imprisoned friend that the "problem" with the gay activist was “over.”
Tarlan Hankishayev in court (Photo: Moti Kimchi)
For years, the police looked at every lead, but could not solve the case. The gay activist, as well as the state’s witness – who did not hide his sexual orientation – were questioned by police, along with hundreds of others but none of the men mentioned what they knew.
Six months ago, police found the gun by chance, but were not able to link it to Felician. Three months later police received a phone call from the prison. "I have information on Barnoar," the caller said. The man, who turned state's witness, told investigators he had a falling out with the other suspects, and wanted to tell everything he knew. He told officers, "They abandoned me in jail. I'm ready to help you."
Investigators were surprised, and could not believe what they were hearing. The suspects had always been nearby. They asked the witness for initial evidence, and the motive became clear: the relationship between the LGBT activist, and the molested relative, who was a minor.
The critical conversation led detectives from Tel Aviv’s Central Unit to post intense 24-hour-a-day surveillance on the suspects. During this time, the criminal lifestyle of the three became evident, as they were recorded break and entering, stealing and committing other criminal acts.
But senior officials in the Central Unit realized they were still missing the necessary incriminating evidence. The witness, who was still in prison, was only scheduled to be released in a few months. In an unusual move, police decided to release him early, making him a police informant, so that he could collect further evidence. This received approval from the Attorney General and other officials, and the witness was released.
“It was not clear to us how this person could renew his relationship with his friends, and it was unclear to us how he could renew conversations regarding such a serious offense that he had a part in, "said Eshed. But his friends did not suspect a thing. He managed to engage them in conversations on Barnoar. Even with this ace in their hands, investigators needed more tangible evidence to ensure incrimination. The witness served as a police informant for a period of four months. "He worked the situation in a very slow manner," Eshed explained.
Last week, a turnaround in the case took place, even as exchange of command ceremonies were going on, and Major General Bentzi Sau replaced Major General Aharon Aksul, who had overseen the case up to that point. Suddenly the Tel Aviv Central Unit discovered that the suspects might have learned that the state’s witness was acting against them. Fearing for the life of their witness, Sau gave the order to arrest the three suspects, on his first day in command.
The state’s witness was taken to a safe location, and police arrested the three suspects. Later, they also arrested the LGBT community activist.
During the investigation, investigators put the state’s witness in the same room with the suspects, and let him say what he knew. The suspects continued to deny any connection to the incident, and said the witness was trying to frame them. At the same time, investigators continued to press the activist into admitting what he knew, and tried to discern whether he had remained silent over the years, all the while knowing the bullets were meant for him.
Through Sunday the man insisted he had no connection to any of the involved parties, and said he never hurt the minor. Police even offered him the chance to provide information in exchange for a substantial lessening of his sentence, by simply providing backing for the suspected motive: that the Barnoar murders were in retaliation for his actions. But the man continued to deny this, as the suspects continued to deny their involvement in the murders. The unanswered question remains – why did the suspect open fire in Barnoar, even though the target of his revenge was not present at the time.
Some background on the suspects: Felician comes from a religious family of six children from Pardes Katz. After his parents divorced he and his brother remained with their mother, and she was forced to work hard in order to raise them. Some of the family members today are haredim, while Felician and another brother both began committing criminal offenses. Both brothers were shot at close range approximately a year-and-a-half ago, in a criminal dispute.
Hagai Felician in court (Photo: Moti Kimchi)
In 2004, a case was opened against Felician, and against another of the three, for arson, theft and possession of a knife. Felician's young relative – the boy who had allegedly told him of being molested – repeatedly found himself in trouble with the law.
In one incident, while violating the terms of house arrest, Felician's younger relative took a joy ride on a motorcycle, overturned and was badly injured. His life was saved after intense resuscitation efforts. He underwent many surgeries and was hospitalized for five months.
Due to a number of offenses, he was sentenced to four months in prison. The court granted leniency due to his physical condition, when the young man pledged he would take a new path in life. To this day, people in his neighborhood still remember how he "went to prison in a wheelchair."
The first two suspects met the third in the neighborhood, after the three worked together delivering eggs. Like his friends, he also had run-ins with the law, starting as a youth. A year-and-a-half ago, he was accused of stealing a scooter and in recklessly fleeing police. But no one imagined “small-time” criminals like these three young men would be responsible for the Barnoar shootings.
The final party involved in the incident is the activist from the LGBT community, whose name is scheduled to be released Wednesday, according to the court’s decision. For years, the man was involved in helping teenagers deal with issues related to their sexual orientation, and he was even recognized by the Tel Aviv municipality for his volunteer efforts. His acquaintances were stunned last week to learn of his arrest and refused to believe that he had sexually assaulted a young boy.
Head of the Israeli Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Association, Shai Deutsch, told Ynet he believed the accused activist is innocent of the suspicions of sexual assault, and he will continue to believe so until it is proven differently.
"We received dozens of letters from people he helped. How he could do what they say he did, when he saved many other youths from prostitution?" Deutsch added.
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