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US accuses 4 Belarusian officials of piracy in jet crash landing

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US accuses 4 Belarusian officials of piracy in jet crash landing

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US prosecutors in Manhattan have charged four Belarusian government officials with conspiring to hijack planes in the 2021 crash-landing of a European airliner in Minsk, where a prominent opposition journalist in board the plane was arrested.

The charge was contained in an indictment filed Thursday in federal district court.

In response to an alleged bomb threat, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, authoritarian President of Belarus, sent a fighter jet on May 23 to intercept the Ryanair Boeing 737-800 carrying some 170 passengers from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania – among them the journalist, Roman Protasevich. The plane’s forced descent and seizure sparked international outrage.

Credit…Reuters Television

The bomb threat was a fake, orchestrated by senior Belarusian officials who sought to detain Mr Protasevich in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, the indictment says.

The move was seen as a marker of the extent to which Mr Lukashenko, with the backing of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, was willing to go to suppress dissent in his country.

The indictment does not charge Mr. Lukashenko. The officials named in the indictment were the director general of Belarus’ national air navigation authority, his deputy and two officers from the country’s security services.

The defendants are based in Belarus and remain at large, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which announced the charges with the Justice Department, FBI and New York Police Department.

US accuses 4 Belarusian officials of piracy in jet crash landing

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