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U.S. Charges 4 Belarus Officials With Piracy in Forced Landing of Jet

United States prosecutors in Manhattan have charged four officials of the government of Belarus with conspiracy to commit aircraft piracy in the 2021 forced landing of a European airliner in Minsk, where a prominent opposition journalist aboard the plane was seized.

The charge was contained in an indictment filed on Thursday in Federal District Court.

In response to a purported bomb threat, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, Belarus’s authoritarian president, 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 forcing down of the plane and his seizure led to international outrage.

Credit…Reuters TV

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

The move was seen as a marker of how far Mr. Lukashenko, with the support of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, was willing to go to repress dissent in his country.

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

The defendants are based in Belarus and remain at large, according to a statement by the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, which announced the charges along with the Justice Department, the F.B.I. and the New York Police Department.

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