According to the Ryanair CEO, the landing of planes in Belarus was a state sponsored piracy.

LONDON – Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary said Monday that the decision by the Belarusian authorities to divert a plane flying over its territory and arrest a dissident journalist on board constituted “government sponsored piracy”.

He said he believed Belarusian KGB employees would be traveling on the scheduled flight from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania.

“It appears that the authorities’ intention was to remove a journalist and his travel companion … we believe some KGB agents were also unloaded at the airport,” O’Leary told Irish Newstalk Radio.

He said he believed the incident was likely the first of its kind for a European airline.

“This was a case of government-sponsored kidnapping … government-sponsored piracy,” he said.

The heads of state and government of the European Union will discuss the tightening of their sanctions regime against Belarus at their planned summit on May 24 after Minsk diverted the Ryanair passenger flight from Athens to Vilnius and arrested Belarusian opposition activist Roman Protasevich.

Petras Malukas | AFP | Getty Images

Belarus on Sunday ordered its military to crawl a fighter jet to force the Ryanair plane to change course and land in its capital, citing a potential security threat on board. State media in Belarus said President Alexander Lukashenko personally gave the order.

CNBC asked the Belarus Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment on Monday but has yet to receive a response.

Police arrested political activist and blogger Roman Protasevich, 26, when passengers disembarked. His girlfriend Sofya Sapega, a 23-year-old Russian national studying at the European University of Humanities in Lithuania, was also reportedly detained.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said on Sunday via Twitter that the “outrageous and illegal behavior of the regime in Belarus will have consequences,” adding that those responsible “must be sanctioned”.

A woman is standing with a poster that says “Where’s Roman (Protasevich) ?!” at arrivals as passengers disembark from a Ryanair passenger plane from Athens, Greece that was intercepted by Belarusian authorities and diverted to Minsk the same day after landing at Vilnius International Airport, its original destination, on May 23, 2021 .

Petras Malukas | AFP | Getty Images

The European Union has also called for the immediate release of Protasevich and announced that it will discuss the appropriate measures.

The US reiterated its call for Protasevich’s immediate release and condemned the “forced diversion” of the flight.

“In view of the indications that the emergency landing was based on false deceptions, we support the earliest possible meeting of the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization to review these events,” said Foreign Minister Antony Blinken.

In a statement Monday, the International Federation of Aviation Pilots’ Associations and the European Cockpit Association also shared concerns that the forced landing was “an act of unlawful interference with all the hallmarks of government-sponsored hijackings.”

Both bodies called for an independent investigation into the incident.

“Any military intervention against a civilian aircraft poses a deliberate threat to the safety of passengers and crew,” they added.

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