The message about a bomb planted on Ryanair flight FR4978 that was diverted to Minsk on May 23, Belarus was signed off by Palestinian group Hamas and sent to the email address of the Minsk National Airport. A Hamas spokesperson has a subsequently denied the allegation.
Belarusian news ageny, BelTA reported quoting the Director of the Aviation Department of the Belarusian Transport and Communications Ministry, Artyom Sikorsky in what looks to be an elaborate over-up of the hijacking of the airliner:
Blame it on Hamas
On 23 May the Minsk National Airport received an email in English sent from a protonmail.com account. The letter read: “We, soldiers of Hamas, demand that Israel cease fire in the Gaza Strip. We demand that the European Union stop supporting Israel in this war. We know that participants of the Delfi Economic Forum are returning home aboard flight FR4978. A bomb has been planted on the aircraft. If our demands are not met, the bomb will explode over Vilnius on 23 May.”
Taking into account the seriousness of the threat the Minsk National Airport passed on the information to the relevant authorities. “In line with the Chicago Convention and the national program on protecting civil aviation from acts of illegal interference the relevant procedures were launched,” Artyom Sikorsky said.
Information about the threat was passed on to the Ryanair crew right after the aircraft entered Belarus' airspace and communication was established between a Belarusian air traffic controller and the aircraft. “At that time the crew could use the opportunity and return to Lvov, Kiev, could land in Warsaw, continue the flight to Vilnius and so on.
At 12:34 the air traffic controller suggested the Minsk National Airport where all the necessary equipment for landing aircraft in complicated meteorological conditions is available as well as a runway as long as 3,600 meters. The crew asked to clarify sources of the tip about the bomb several times. The crew was told the initial message had been sent to the Minsk National Airport. Prior to that the flight operations director of the Minsk area center had tried to call Ryanair's representative office in Lithuania several times but he failed to reach any representative of the air carrier,” Artyom Sikorsky said.
The Ryanair crew made the decision to land at the Minsk National Airport, the report said without mentioning that a “follow-me” message from an esortting MiG-20 fighter jet may have influenced the pilot’s decision.
BelTA reported earlier that an aircraft of the air carrier Ryanair was flying over Belarus on the way from Athens to Vilnius on 23 May. The aircraft sent a distress signal. The FR4978 flight squawked code 7700 – it is the main emergency code, which signifies an emergency situation on board. A message about a bomb on board the aircraft was the reason for the distress call. (The Pilot subsequently has denied sending code 7700)
The pilot-in-command decided to divert the aircraft to the Minsk National Airport where the aircraft successfully landed. Emergency response teams of the airport, ambulances, aviation security personnel, and K9 specialists had already been waiting for the aircraft at the parking apron. Prompt investigation measures were taken. Additional units of the Emergencies Ministry arrived. Representatives of law enforcement agencies worked on site, the report said.
There were 123 passengers on board. All of them went through an additional aviation security check and were delivered to the airport's transit lounge for investigation measures. The luggage was also removed from the aircraft and submitted to an additional security check. The tip about the bomb on board the aircraft proved false. The aircraft left the Minsk National Airport for Vilnius at 20:48.
The Investigative Committee branch of Minsk's Oktyabrsky District has opened a criminal case into a knowingly false report about danger in line with part 1, Article 340 of the Criminal Code.
The BelTA report makes no mention of anti-government activist and his girlfriend being taken off the plane at Minsk and taken to an unknown destination.