‘No indication’ Belarus agents were on diverted flight: Greek PM

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis says there is no evidence plane forced to land in Minsk had security services on board.

Minsk forced a Ryanair flight from Athens, Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania to land in the Belarusian capital on Sunday in response to an alleged bomb threat [Onliner.by/AFP]

There is no evidence that Belarusian secret service agents were on board the Ryanair flight forced to divert to Minsk on Sunday, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Thursday.

Belarus made the flight heading from Greece to Lithuania land in its capital in response to an alleged bomb threat.

No bomb was found, but Roman Protasevich, a 26-year-old reporter and critic of longtime Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, was pulled off the plane and arrested by Belarusian authorities, along with his girlfriend Sofia Sapega.

The incident sparked international outrage and prompted the European Union to ban Belarusian planes from the bloc’s airspace as well as urge EU airlines to avoid flying over the ex-Soviet state.

Both Belarus’s political opposition and Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary suggested that members of the country’s KGB security agency, which still goes by its Soviet-era acronym, were on board the flight.

But Mitsotakis told Germany’s Bild newspaper that no proof had emerged to suggest that was the case.

“We have no indication there were KGB agents or any security service agents on board the plane. None. Zero. And we investigated it very carefully,” Mitsotakis said.

Lukashenko has dismissed the claims concerning security agents and defended Minsk’s forced diversion of the plane, stating on Wednesday that he had acted legally and in accordance with international norms.

However, echoing criticism from other European leaders, Mitsotakis described the incident as an “an act of state-sponsored piracy” undertaken with the sole purpose of arresting Protasevich.

Bomb threat claims

Mitsotakis’s remarks came amid growing doubt over Minsk’s claims regarding the alleged bomb threat.

Switzerland-based email provider Proton Technologies AG said on Thursday that the threat cited by Belarusian authorities was only sent after the Ryanair flight was diverted.

Belarusian authorities claim the threat had come from Hamas, but the Palestinian group has denied any involvement in the incident.

Lukashenko has also suggested the threat originated in Switzerland, but the Swiss government has denied having any knowledge of it.

“We haven’t seen credible evidence that the Belarusian claims are true,” Proton said in a statement.

“We will support European authorities in their investigations upon receiving a legal request.”

‘Help me free my son’

Separately on Thursday, Protasevich’s parents made an impassioned appeal for assistance over their son’s case.

“I want to appeal to you as Roman’s mother. I want you to hear my cry, the cry of my soul, so that you can understand how difficult it is for us right now and how we have found ourselves in an absurd situation,” Natalia Protasevich, the reporter’s mother, told reporters in Warsaw.

“I want you to relay our appeal everywhere, throughout the world, to government representatives, to EU countries, to EU leaders, to US leaders: I am appealing, I am begging, help me free my son.”

Protasevich’s father Dmitry meanwhile hailed his son as a “hero”.

“All through his life, he has fought for truth and he has relayed it to people. That’s why Lukashenko has committed this terrible act,” he said.

In a video posted online on Monday by Belarusian authorities, Protasevich said he was in good health and being held in a pretrial detention facility in Minsk.

He acknowledged having played a role in mass anti-government rallies last year, which followed a disputed August election that handed Lukashenko a sixth term in office.

It has been widely speculated that Protasevich was speaking under duress. His father has said he believes the 26-year-old’s confession was forced.

Minsk cracked down forcefully on last year’s protests. The number of people who were arrested for participating in the rallies is understood to be in the tens of thousands.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies