Probe by Poland refutes Belarus account of diverted flight

Polish security officials say the diversion to Minsk of a Lithuania-bound flight carrying a self-exiled Belarusian journalist was an act of “state terrorism” carried out to detain an opponent of Belarus’ government

ByThe Associated Press
December 10, 2021, 12:56 PM

WARSAW, Poland -- The diversion to Minsk of a Lithuania-bound flight carrying a self-exiled Belarusian journalist was an act of “state terrorism” carried out to detain an opponent of Belarus' government, Polish security officials said Friday.

Poland’s Internal Security Agency and prosecutors investigated the May 23 incident in which a Ryanair jetliner registered in Poland was ordered to land in the capital of Belarus due to an alleged bomb threat. Journalist Raman Pratasevich, who lived in Lithuania, was removed from the plane and arrested. He remains under house arrest in Belarus.

The fact that there were Polish citizens among the other 125 passengers led to the probe.

A security services spokesperson, Stanislaw Zaryn, presented findings from Poland’s investigation, which concluded there was no bomb and that Belarusian security officers were at an air traffic tower in Minsk where they gave a controller instructions to order the plane to turn back and land.

Zaryn played journalists a recording of what he said was the conversation between the pilot of the Ryanair flight and an air traffic controller in Belarus. The pilot is heard asking where the bomb threat information came from and is told the source was Belarusian special services. Someone speaking Russian gives the controller information to relay to the pilot,

Belarusian authorities have said the plane was diverted after they received a warning that a bomb was on the plane. Poland’s investigators said an email with the alleged threat was sent some 30 minutes after the controller relayed the message to the pilot, and came from an address that likely was generated for that purpose only.

Zaryn said the diversion was aimed at detaining a “political opponent of the regime of (Belarusian President) Aleksander Lukashenko” and can be considered an “act of state terrorism.”

On Thursday, the head of the aviation department at the Belarusian Transport and Communications Ministry, Artem Sikorsky, dismissed a similar account of the events published in The New York Times, which reported that a former air traffic controller in Minsk had defected to Poland.

Sikorsky told Belarus state news agency Belta that an air traffic controller cannot exert pressure on the pilot's decision-making. He said the Belarusian government has requested additional information, including the pilot's conversation with air traffic control in Lithuania.

“We are seeing that this information dump is occurring at the moment when we ask our Polish partners and the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) commission to provide objective control data, in particular conversations between the Vilnius air traffic controller and the pilot and in-cabin conversations between the crew members,” Sikorsky said Thursday.

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Uliana Pavlova in Moscow contributed to this report.

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