After going back and forth in what has already been dubbed "the gag order fiasco," Tel Aviv Magistrates' Court Judge Ido Druyan on Tuesday lifted the comprehensive order barring the media from reporting on the breakthroughs made in the police investigation of the 2009 shooting at the Bar Noar gay youth center in Tel Aviv.
The gag order was imposed almost immediately after the shooting, in which a counselor and a young woman were murdered and 10 others were wounded, because minors were involved. The court partially lifted the gag order last Wednesday, allowing the police to report that three suspects from the Pardes Katz suburb of Bnei Brak were in custody.
Press briefings held by the police on Monday were later proved premature, as the judge decided to stay the order until Tuesday, throwing both the police and all major Israeli news outlets that were covering the high-profile case into a loop, essentially forcing them to remove their reports on the case.
The police released new information on Tuesday, once the court officially lifted the gag order, including the prime suspect's name, 23-year-old Hagai Felician from Pardes Katz.
According to Maj. Gen. Gadi Eshed, who heads the Tel Aviv District Police Central Unit which oversaw the investigation, the police spent "unprecedented resources" on the investigation, which spanned four years.
"The main lead was that the motive for this crime was some sort of a personal vendetta, and we questioned every person seen in the vicinity [of the youth center] during the crime, but other than that we didn't have much to go on," he told reporters.
According to Eshed, the real breakthrough in the case came in December 2012, when a man hiking in the woods of Rosh Haayin found a gun, which police trace back to the Bar Noar shooting.
A second breakthrough came in February, when a witness turned up. The man, who turned state's witness, implicated Felician and two other men in the shooting, telling police that Felician decided to target the youth center after one of his relatives, then 15, told him he had been sodomized by a gay man.
Eshed stressed that investigators were careful in building the case against the suspects, and that the state's witness had agreed to wear a wire, allowing the police to get a first-hand account of the events from the suspects themselves.
The police said that since his arrest, Felician had changed his version of the events several times, and that his behavior was erratic and volatile.
Another suspect in the case, 26-year-old Tarlan Hankishiev, is known to the police and has a previous criminal record for breaking and entering. Hankishiev, who is suspected of being an accessory to the crime, was, in fact, under house arrest during the time of the shooting.
According to the police, the teen whose alleged assault triggered the attack denies any knowledge or involvement in the case. He also denies having been sexually assaulted.
"The fact that we were able to solve this case after four years -- during which it never stopped being a top priority -- proves that nothing is impossible," Eshed said.
Druyan came under harsh criticism Monday over his "zigzagging" on the gag order and police brass were said to be furious with the judge over the matter. A police source told Army Radio Tuesday that the court was to blame for the confusion, adding, "The court's unintentional zigzagging might usher in a new era on gag orders, which in the digital age have become obsolete."
Attorney Shay Shorrer, who represents one of the suspects, criticized the police for rushing to hold press briefings, saying, "The police should be held accountable for not following the court's order. They shouldn't portray themselves as victims -- they should own up to their actions."
"No one wants to be in the position to violate a gag order imposed by the court, but in today's world you can't really stop information from getting out," MK Nachman Shai (Kadima) said Tuesday. "I suggest we find a way to limit the number of gag orders issued."