US indicts Belarusian official for ‘hijacking plot’

The US Department of Justice indicted four Belarusian officials accused of hijacking in connection with the incident of forcing a Ryanair plane to land to arrest people.

The list of Belarusian officials charged with attempted hijacking, released by the US Department of Justice on January 20, includes two senior members of the national aviation agency and two security officials. The US side believes that these officials participated in a plan to fake bomb alarms on Ryanair aircraft on May 23, 2021.

The flight was then forced to change course and land in Minsk. Belarusian law enforcement later arrested opposition journalist Roman Protasevich on charges of inciting 2020 protests against President Alexander Lukashenko.

The US Department of Justice has filed charges against the Belarusian official in federal court in New York. The agency noted that Ryanair flight 4978 from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania at the time it was forced to land was carrying more than 100 passengers, including 4 US citizens.

Activist Roman Protasevich attends a trial in Minsk, Belarus in April 2017.  Photo: Reuters.

Activist Roman Protasevich attends a trial in Minsk, Belarus in April 2017. Photo: Reuters.

Two high-ranking Belarusian officials in the allegation include Leonid Mikalaevich Churo and Oleg Kazyuchits, Director General and Deputy Director General of the Belarusian Aviation Authority (Belaeronavigatsia). The other two officials in the Belarusian security industry have not been identified by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

“The FBI finds this to be a sophisticated operation that puts passengers from many countries, including the United States, at risk of terrorism,” said FBI Assistant Director Michael Driscoll. “This event is not only a flagrant violation of US law, but also poses a serious threat to the safety of all individuals on board.”

He assessed that the force of the plane to land could have long-term consequences for aviation safety. The pilot who later received a warning signal from air traffic control in Belarus ran the risk of doubting the authenticity of the emergency message, thereby putting the lives of everyone on board the flight at risk.

A Ryanair plane made an emergency landing in the Belarusian capital Minsk on May 23, 2021.  Photo: AP.

A Ryanair plane made an emergency landing in the Belarusian capital Minsk on May 23, 2021. Photo: AP.

According to the US Department of Justice’s indictment, Churo and Belarusian security officials reported the threat of a fake bomb to officials at the Minsk Air Traffic Control Center before the departure of Ryanair flight 4978 in Athens. aircraft bridge changed course to Minsk.

They waited until the plane entered Belarusian airspace to notify the pilot and force a landing. American investigators believe that Kazyuchits tried to falsify the report to hide the fake bomb warning and the involvement of Belarusian security officials.

If found guilty by a federal court in New York, the four Belarusian officials could face prison in the event they set foot in the US.

The International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) announced on January 17 that it had completed an investigation into the forced landing of a plane in Belarus last year, but the conclusion was only announced at the end of the month.

Trung Nhan (Follow AFP)

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