MONTREAL: The UN aviation agency on Monday extended its investigation into a bomb warning aboard a Ryanair flight last May, citing gaps and inconsistencies in Belarus's account of its rerouting of the aircraft.
The flight from Greece to Lithuania on May 23, 2021 was forced to land in Minsk, where Belarusian authorities arrested two passengers, journalist Roman Protasevich and his partner Sofia Sapega.
After reviewing a report on the International Civil Aviation Organization's fact-finding investigation of the incident, the agency's 36-member board "requested the ICAO investigation team to continue its work."
In a statement, the Montreal-based agency said the ICAO Council "expressed concern at the gaps in information provided by Belarus and the inconsistences contained in the evidence available at the time of the investigation in relation to crucial aspects of the factual reconstruction of the events."
It also pointed to "newly emerging information relating to the FR4978 events and timeline," but provided no details.
A source with knowledge of the investigation told AFP the information was provided by Poland, "which was able to question the air traffic controler in charge that day and has since fled the country."
"He claimed a member of the Belarusian secret service had been in the control tower since the morning," said the same source.
The report, which AFP has viewed, found the bomb warning was "deliberately false."
Belarus authorities, including President Alexander Lukashenko, have maintained that the plane was diverted to Minsk because of the threat of a bomb on board.
The ICAO report confirmed that searches of the plane upon departure and arrival did not produce a bomb, and said therefore "it is considered that the bomb threat was deliberately false."
However, the investigation "was unable to attribute the commission of this act of unlawful interference to any individual or state," the report said.
The report, which breaks down the day in question minute by minute, does show Belarus concealing information crucial to the investigation.
The US Justice Department earlier this month named two Belarusian officials accused of organizing the plot in an unprecedented judicial move coming just as tensions rise between the United States and Belarus ally Russia.
The United States, Canada, Britain and the European Union in June slapped economic sanctions on the country and individual sanctions on Lukashenko over the ordeal.