Belarusian authorities claim Ryanair bomb threat came from Hamas
On May 24, the Belarusian Transport Ministry announced that Hamas was behind the bomb threat that allegedly forced a Ryanair flight to land in Minsk on May 23, reports the Belarusian news outlet Onliner.by.
The director of the Transport Ministry’s Aviation Department, Artem Sikorsky, told the press that on May 23, the Minsk National Airport received an email that said the following:
“We, Hamas soldiers, demand that Israel cease fire in the Gaza Strip. We demand that the European Union renounce its support for Israel in this war. It’s known that the participants in the Delphi Economic Forum are returning home on flight […] 4978. A bomb has been planted on this plane. If you do not fulfill our demands, the bomb will explode on May 23 over Vilnius.”
Sikorsky added that the Belarusian air traffic controllers informed the crew of the Ryanair flight about the threat, after which the crew made the decision to land at the Minsk National Airport. The Belarusian official stressed that “there was no pressure or coercion to land the aircraft.”
Update. Hamas has denied any knowledge or connection to the false bomb threat that prompted the Ryanair flight to divert to Minsk, Reuters reports.
In turn, the commander of the Belarusian Air Force and Air Defence Forces, Igor Golub, stated that the MiG-29 fighter jet was sent to escort the passenger flight after the Ryanair crew had turned the plane towards the Minsk airport, reports Tut.by.
“It’s inappropriate to say that the crew on duty disrupted the Ryanair flight,” Golub said, as quoted by the Belarusian state news agency BelTA.
Hamas and the Israeli authorities agreed on a ceasefire on May 20 after two weeks of mutual shelling. The agreement was reached three days before the Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius was diverted to Minsk.
On May 23, a Ryanair passenger flight travelling from Athens to Vilnius was forced to make an emergency landing at the Minsk National Airport. This took place following reports of a bomb threat on board the flight. Belarus sent an MiG-29 fighter jet to escort the passenger plane to Minsk. It later turned out that the bomb threat was false.
Among the passengers on the flight was journalist Roman Protasevich (Raman Pratasevich), the former editor-in-chief of the most prominent Belarusian opposition outlet, Nexta. Protasevich, who is facing a number of criminal cases in Belarus, was detained at the Minsk airport along with his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, who is a Russian citizen. The remaining passengers from the flight were allowed to continue their journey to Vilnius after a seven-hour delay.
The authorities of many European countries believe the Belarusian authorities hijacked the passenger plane in order to arrest Protasevich. Lithuania has urged its citizens to leave Belarus and announced that it will stop accepting and sending flights that travel through Belarusian airspace. Some airlines have also announced plans to avoid flying over Belarus.