The state of Belarus faked a bomb scare, hijacked a Ryanair aircraft flying from Athens to Vilnius to land in Minsk instead and arrested opposition activist Roman Protasevich, 26, who was one of the 122 passengers on board.
The Boeing 737 aircraft was on a scheduled commercial flight from Athens, Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania and was overflying Belarusian territory when it was forced to divert by a MiG-29 escort after informing it of a bomb threat.
The Ryanair plane had almost reached the Lithuanian border and was less than 30 minutes away from Vilnius when it turned direction and landed at Minsk under fighter jet escort.
The Ryanair aircraft is expected to leave tomorrow (Monday) for Vilnius with the rest of the passengers and 12 crew.
Meanwhile, Lithuanian presidential adviser Asta Skaisgiryte was quoted as saying by Reuters that Belarus intelligence services knew who was onboard the plane which is the reason why the plane was force-landed. Protasevich had lived in Vilnius since November 2020, she said.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said in a statement, "I call on NATO and EU allies to immediately react to the threat posed to international civil aviation by the Belarus regime. The international community must take immediate steps that this does not repeat,"
Former presidential candidate of Belarus Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said that a week ago she was returning to Vilnius on the same flight as the detained Protasevich. “A week ago, I was returning from Athens to Vilnius on exactly the same flight. We met with Roman Protasevich in Greece; he took pictures of our working visit." Tikhanovskaya said in her telegram channel.
“Roman is a well-known Belarusian activist and blogger. In 2019 he left Belarus because of the threat to his freedom for cooperation with the independent Telegram channel Nexta. Belarusian security forces opened several criminal cases against him, and the KGB of Belarus included Protasevich on the list of persons involved in terrorist activities. Now his life is in danger," Tikhanovskaya said.
In November 2020, the Prosecutor General's Office of Belarus applied to the Ministry of Justice of Poland with a request to arrest him and extradite him to prosecute as defendants in the case of riots in Belarus.
Meanwhile, Poland's prime minister called the incident a "reprehensible act of state terrorism".