According to the United Nations Aviation Agency, Belarus has failed to produce any evidence of a bomb threat that was used to justify the diversion of a plane to Minsk – which led to the arrest of a disgruntled journalist.
In a 62-page report released Tuesday, the International Civil Aviation Organization’s fact-finding mission called the bomb threat “deliberately false”, though it said it did not have enough information to say what was behind the case. Who was it.
Ryanair Flight 4978 bound for Lithuania from Athens on May 23, 2021, when a Belarusian fighter jet forced it to divert and land in Minsk. The authorities then arrested the journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, who were aboard.
The incident sparked international outrage against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko – whose disdain for democratic norms and human rights has made his country an untouchable in the West.
Belarusian state media reported at the time that Lukashenko had personally ordered the flight to be stopped.
Countries including Canada condemned Belarus and considered sanctions, while also recommending that their airlines avoid the country’s airspace.
The ICAO team said Belarusian officials claimed to have received two identical emails from the terrorist group Hamas warning them of a bomb.
“We, the Hamas soldiers, demand that Israel maintain a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip,” reads a transcript of the note in the ICAO report.
“We demand that the EU drop its support for Israel in this war. We know that Delphi Economic Forum participants are returning home on 23 May via flight FR4978. A bomb was planted on this plane. If you don’t meet our demand to explode the bomb on Vilnius on 23rd May. Allahu Akbar.”
But ICAO never saw the first message as it was received by Belarus in its original formatting. It was only able to verify the existence of both emails as other airports in nearby countries also received them.
“The receipt of the first email is critical to explain the basis of the bomb threat communication,” the ICAO report said, as Belarus said it received the first note at 9:25 a.m. GMT, and flight crew five began to communicate with.” After a few moments. The second arrived at 9:56 am
Belarusian officials said the original emails were deleted because of their data retention policy.
Similarly, the team was unable to view some surveillance video footage from Minsk after the plane made a forced landing, which Belarus blamed for the “long passage”.
The language of the report states that the explanation is unsatisfactory, as “criminal and other investigations” were launched into the incidents.
ICAO was also unable to interview a Minsk air traffic controller who had been in contact with the Ryanair flight that day. Belarus said the employee had not come to work after his summer vacation, and officials were unable to contact him or establish his whereabouts.
It also noted that flight inspections in Athens, Minsk and Lithuania – where the aircraft arrived after its forced detour – did not produce bombs.
The aviation agency has submitted its report to its 36 council member states, which are due to meet at the end of the month to discuss further course of action.
CBC News has reached out to the federal government for comment.