A bomb threat Belarus used to justify the diversion of a Ryanair flight last year was “deliberately false,” according to the UN civil aviation agency’s report on the incident.
Dissident Belarusian journalist Raman Pratasevich and his Russian girlfriend were detained on May 23 when Belarus scrambled a military jet to escort their Athens-to-Vilnius flight to land in Minsk just before it was to leave Belarus’s airspace.
Belarusian authorities claimed they acted because of a bomb threat from the Palestinian militant group Hamas that turned out to be false.
Countries around the world condemned Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka for the “state hijacking” of a passenger aircraft to arrest Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega. The two face charges related to civil disturbances that followed a disputed presidential election in August 2020. They are currently under house arrest.
The UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) set up a fact-finding team to probe the incident and released its long-awaited report on January 17 to all 193 members.
The report says Belarus’s version of events — including contact between Minsk airport, air-traffic control, and the pilots — did not hold up to scrutiny and the bomb threat was false.
“As neither a bomb nor evidence of its existence was found during predeparture 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 says.
However, no person or state has been identified as the source of the illegal hoax, it adds.
Belarusian authorities also failed to cooperate with the probe, withheld crucial information from the fact-finding team, and did not preserve information.
The report does mention that several states conducted or are conducting their own investigations, which could assist in “establishing any missing facts.”
A Polish investigation published last month concluded the “the whole situation was only an excuse to force the pilot to land” in the Belarusian capital to arrest Pratasevich and Sapega.
In response to the ICAO report, Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya said its findings show that “the regime tried to hide facts about the Ryanair incident.”
She called for the ICAO to take a “hard line” against the Belarusian government and for the issue to be raised at the UN Security Council.
The ICAO’s council is scheduled to meet on January 31 to consider possible actions in response the report’s findings.
Britain and the European Union have already told airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace and banned the country’s flagship carrier, Belavia. Several countries, including the United States, Canada, Britain, and the European Union, announced fresh sanctions against Belarus in response to the incident.
Lukashenka’s regime is already internationally isolated over its brutal crackdown on the country’s pro-democracy movement in the wake of the presidential election that the opposition and West say was rigged.
The European Union, United States, and other countries have slapped several rounds of coordinated sanctions on Belarus.