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international

Purported bomb threat Belarus cited in plane interception was sent after flight diverted, email provider says


An email cited by Belarusian authorities containing a purported in-flight bomb threat was sent after a plane was diverted to Minsk with a prominent Belarus opposition journalist aboard, Swiss email provider ProtonMail said Thursday, further challenging the Belarusian regimes version of events.

The interception of the Ryanair flight Sunday traveling from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, has prompted international condemnation and new sanctions from the European Union, which has dismissed Belarus's bomb scare explanation for forcing the diversion of the plane.

European leaders and oppositions activists have said the entire incident was orchestrated by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to arrest 26-year-old Roman Protasevich, a journalist on board who had been in self-exile but now faces 15 years in prison in Belarus.

ProtonMail's statement further undercut Belarusian claims it alerted the cockpit crew after receiving the emailed bomb threat from the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

ProtonMail said the email containing the alleged bomb threat was sent 24 minutes after the Ryanair flight crew was ordered by Belarusian air traffic control to land in Minsk, despite the plane being much closer to Vilnius's airport at the time,

"We haven't seen credible evidence that the Belarusian claims are true," ProtonMail, a Swiss privacy-focused provider said in a statement. "We will support European authorities in their investigations upon receiving a legal request."

A European intelligence official shared a copy of the email with The Washington Post.

The Daily Beat and the Dossier Center, a nonprofit organization run by the self-exiled Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, first reported that the email was sent after the plane was told to reroute to Minsk.

"We, Hamas soldiers," it reads, "demand that Israel cease fire in the Gaza Strip. We demand that the European Union abandon its support for Israel in this war. We know that the participants of Delphi Economic Forum are returning home on May 23 via flight FR4978. A bomb has been planted onto this aircraft. If you don't meet our demands the bomb will explode on May 23 over Vilnius."

Hamas's spokesman denied the group's involvement.

Published : May 28, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Isabelle Khurshudyan