The bomb threat that diverted a Ryanair passenger plane to Minsk on 23 May last year was “deliberately false,” according to the UN’s aviation agency’s report of the incident.
The flight was diverted after Aleksandr G Lukashenko, the first and only president of Belarus since 1994, ordered a MiG-29 fighter jet to escort the flight, which held Roman Protasevich, the former editor of one of Belarus’ most popular opposition outlets, where he was arrested during the plane’s unexpected stopover.
The International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO), said it was “unable to attribute the commission of this act of unlawful interference to any individual or State,” due in part to Belarusian authorities failing to provide the agency with requested information about the incident.
The report also said that the ICAO could not corroborate Minsk air traffic controllers’ version of events and considered the bomb threat to be false.
“As neither a bomb nor evidence of its existence was found during pre-departure screening in Athens Greece and after various searches of the aircraft in Belarus and Lithuania, it is considered that the bomb threat was deliberately false,” it said.
The report also wrote that Minsk air traffic controllers said they told Ryanair that several airports had received a bomb warning from the terrorist group Hamas, however, the group denies any involvement.
Investigators could not establish how the controllers would have known that “emails had been shared with several airports,” the report added.
The ICAO report also said it “could not corroborate” Belarus’ claim that a phone call relaying the bomb threat had taken place between Minsk Airport and Belarusian air traffic control.
Belarus’ Department of Aviation did not submit any related information in accordance with this problem, referring only to national legal protections to explain its refusal.
The report noted that investigators were unable to meet or interview the Belarusian air traffic controller assigned to the Ryanair flight. However, Belarusian authorities said he did not report for duty after his summer leave, and that they had no information on his whereabouts and no way to contact him.
Alongside the report, United States prosecutors in Manhattan have charged four officials of the government of Belarus with conspiracy to commit aircraft piracy.
Lukashenko has not been charged as part of the indictment. Rather, it names Leonid Mikalaevich Churo, the director-general of Belarus’s state air navigation authority; his deputy, Oleg Kazyuchits; and two officers of the country’s security services whose full names were not known to prosecutors, according to The New York Times.
Belarusian opposition figure, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, said the ICAO report “shows that the regime tried to hide facts” about the incident.
The @icao report shows that the regime tried to hide facts about the @Ryanair incident. It also confirms – the truth is on the side of Belarusians, not the dictator. ICAO should take a hard line to prevent autocrats to repeat such incidents. The issue must be raised by the #UNSC. pic.twitter.com/4EliMZhAZd
— Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (@Tsihanouskaya) January 19, 2022
“It also confirms — the truth is on the side of Belarusians, not the dictator. ICAO should take a hard line to prevent autocrats to repeat such incidents,” Tikhanovskaya tweeted.
The bomb threat was seen as a marker of how far Lukashenko was willing to go to enforce his rule in Belarus. After scaring away or jailing his political opponents, the Belarusian President secured easy re-election in 2020, a result seen as fraudulent, sparking months of protests.
International commendation ensued after Lukashenko’s security forces violently suppressed the demonstrations and imprisoned thousands of people.
The report will be discussed by the ICAO’s 193-country Council on January 31. It will also consider a complaint made by Belarus about sanctions placed on the country following the incident.