LGBT center shooting 'revenge for sexual assault'

Nineteen-year-old Hagai Felician put on a mask, ran into Bar Noar LGBT center and fired in all directions, police say.

June 11, 2013 11:46
Suspect in Bar Noar shooting who was allegedly sexually assaulted.

Bar Noar suspect blurred 370. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)

Nineteen-year-old Hagai Felician put on a mask, ran into the Bar Noar LGBT center four years ago and began firing in all directions, killing two and wounding 11, to avenge the sexual abuse of his 15-year-old relative by a grown man he expected to be there, police announced on Monday.

The Monday police briefing gave rise to an embarrassing turn of events, as minutes after it adjourned, the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court extended the gag order on the case following a request by two of the suspects’ attorneys.

All of the details police had given out thus became illegal for publication, and all Israeli news websites had to pull articles they had run on the case. That gag order was definitively lifted on Tuesday morning.

Police also cleared for publication on Tuesday that a break in the investigation had come after a witness – a member of the LGBT community – said he had helped to plan the shooting at the Tel Aviv youth center. The witness is not the same community member arrested last week for the sexual abuse of the minor, whose identity still cannot be published.

The testimony of the witness and the wire-tap recordings he made of the suspects are the backbone of the police case against the suspects.

According to the official investigation, the young relative told Felician, who is now 23, a couple of weeks before the August 1, 2009, shooting that he had been sexually abused by a man who was working at the Bar Noar center.

The two began to plot their revenge.

Over the following 10 days or so, the pair, from Bnei Brak’s rough Pardes Katz neighborhood, planned the attack, finding a firearm and plotting how to escape afterward, police believe. They allegedly received help from Tarlan Hankishayev, 26, who was also arrested last Wednesday. Police do not believe Hankishayev was present during the shootings.

They think but are not certain that only Felician went into Bar Noar at the time.

When the two relatives arrived around 10:30 p.m. on August 1, Felician ran into the basement of the youth center and began firing with a .9-mm.

Jericho pistol, police say. Within moments he fled, and the pair took off, leaving central Tel Aviv without a trace. Police say they know how Felician fled and where the two hid, but will not reveal the details at this time.

During a hearing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court last Thursday, police said that Felician had gone AWOL from the army for four months following the attack.

Orit Hayun, the attorney representing the younger relative, said on Tuesday that her client had denied having any connection, romantic or otherwise, with the member of the gay community suspected of sexually assaulting him.

Hayun said her client had never been involved with a man sexually.

She added that her client was willing to take a lie detector test to prove his innocence and that he would allow his name to be published.

“The entire police case is built so far on the witness, it’s all they have. My client is confident that this one piece of police evidence will fall through and he’ll beat the charges,” Hayun said.

In 2009, police launched a massive investigation into the attack and focused on three possible motives: a nationalist crime, a hate crime directed at the LGBT community, and a crime of passion or personal vendetta against someone the shooter suspected would be at club.

Over the past four years, police interviewed hundreds of witnesses, including activists and members of the LGBT community. Among those interviewed was the LGBT center activist arrested for the alleged sexual abuse.

Police are now trying to determine whether he knew that the suspects were responsible and stayed silent to avoid implicating himself in the assault of a minor.

Police have described the three primary suspects as low-level criminals, in and out of trouble with the law from a young age.

In 2011, Felician and his brother Yitzhak ran afoul of local Pardes Katz gangster Yitzhak “Hishi” Hadif and narrowly escaped an attempt on their lives. The brothers were wounded, one lightly and one moderately, in that shooting, which took place in a park in the neighborhood.

Hadif – head of the Pardes Katz Gang, which ran the neighborhood’s underworld scene in the ’80s and ’90s – was arrested after the shooting but never charged in the crime, which remains unsolved.

The Felician family is linked to another famous killing – the murder of underworld figure and police informant Ayal Salhov, found shot dead in a field near the Geha interchange in October 2006. At the time, Salhov was in a relationship with Hagai’s sister, with whom he fathered a baby, and was supposed to be under police protection. The murder was a major embarrassment for police and remains unsolved.

Last December, officers matched a pistol to the Bar Noar shooting and secured a gag order on the find. Most Israeli news outlets carried a short, vague update that a “significant advancement had been made” in the investigation.

Not long after the pistol was found – by hikers in an open area near Rosh Ha’ayin – the witness, who was in prison, told police he had been part of the attack’s planning and offered to testify.

Police said on Monday he had done so because he felt betrayed by the three suspects, who did not help him in a time of need after the shootings, while he was in prison. They said he also had a guilty conscience as a member of the LGBT community.

At the press briefing on Monday, Tel Aviv Central Investigative Unit head Cmdr. Gadi Eshed spoke of the case as being “of strategic importance” in that the failure to find the killers would leave a feeling of insecurity among the public and the LGBT community in particular.

Eshed described the killings as “the perfect crime” – no forensic evidence, no photographic or video evidence and no witness testimony that could help pinpoint the suspects.

He described how in March, the witness had come forward and told police from behind bars that he had information on the shooting.

Eshed said officers had met with the man and signed a deal with him to become a witness for the state. Eshed added that all the man asked was to be let out of jail two months early.

“If he had come forward four years earlier, we would have given him a Mercedes and a million dollars. I would have even driven him myself to the bank to pick up the money,” Eshed joked at the briefing on Monday.

Once it was confirmed that the witness was involved in the case, officers had him spend time with the suspects, slowly coaxing them into talking about the case, something that involved great risk on his part, Eshed said. Once the suspects began talking, the witness spent four months building evidence from wiretaps, while police carried out close surveillance.

During the surveillance, police reportedly recorded Felician and his younger relative carrying out dozens of break-ins of automobiles, as well as one arson attack and drug and weapons offensives.

These charges will be included in the indictments to be presented against the two suspects and Hankishayev.

Following the arrests, police held sit-down confrontations between the witness and the suspects, during which the latter denied his allegations.

Eshed said the witness had been involved in planning the shooting, had told the suspects how to get in and out of Bar Noar, what hours it would be open and when the target – the member of the LGBT community who allegedly hurt the younger suspect – would be at the center.

“If he hadn’t come forward, this case could have easily stretched on for another four years,” Eshed said, characterizing the breakthrough as coming because of a simple personal dispute between criminals.

Ch.-Insp. Nissim Dawudi of the Tel Aviv Central Investigative Unit said the suspects were criminals known to police for a long time, but that at the time of the attack, officers did not think they were capable of something like it.

He said that police still did not know whether the younger suspect was abused once or more times by the LGBT community member or how they met. Dawudi said the younger relative was the one who had told the older suspect about the abuse, adding that the 15-year-old had not been known to spend time at Bar Noar before the shooting.

Police have determined that Hankishayev was not present at the attack or in the getaway car, saying that he most likely took part only in planning the crime. While he is one of the three suspects in the murder, Hankishayev is not seen as playing as central a role as the two relatives. It is believed that police will try to convince him to testify against the main two suspects, to strengthen the police case against them.

Opening the briefing was Tel Aviv Police head Asst.-Ch.

Bentzi Sau, who told reporters that officers had just finished updating the victims’ families about the developments in the case. Police decided to ask for the gag order to be lifted following developments in the case over the past couple of days, but would not say what they were, he said.

Sau described the state witness as a key part of the investigation, adding that the man was under 24-hour police protection.

He dismissed speculation that the arrests were meant to coincide with Gay Pride Week last week, pointing out that the head of the central investigative unit had been abroad on vacation during the arrests, as had other senior officers, and that they had decided to make the arrests because they believed that waiting any longer could jeopardize the case.

Toward the end of his comments, Sau tried to temper the excitement among police in the room, saying, “It’s not over till it’s over. We’ve been in many other cases before where it appeared there was enough evidence for an indictment and then at the end the prosecutors backed off. We’ll do whatever we can so that doesn’t happen, but it’s their choice in the end.”

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