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Bomb threat cited by Belarus was sent after plane was diverted - Swiss email provider

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A Ryanair aircraft, which was carrying Belarusian opposition blogger and activist Roman Protasevich and diverted to Belarus, where authorities detained him, lands at Vilnius Airport in Vilnius, Lithuania May 23, 2021. REUTERS/Andrius Sytas

WASHINGTON, May 27 (Reuters) - A bomb threat cited by Belarusian authorities as the reason for forcing a Ryanair (RYA.I) jetliner carrying a dissident journalist to land in Minsk was sent after the plane was diverted, privacy-focused email provider Proton Technologies AG said on Thursday.

The Belarusian authorities said they ordered the plane, which was in their airspace on its way from Greece to Lithuania, to land in the Belarusian capital on Sunday because of a bomb threat from the Islamist militant group Hamas.

Journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega were arrested when the plane landed.

Hamas denied having any knowledge or connection to any bomb threat and European leaders have accused Belarus of state-sponsored piracy.

On Wednesday, the London-based research group Dossier Center published what it said was an email carrying the purported Hamas threat from someone calling themselves Ahmed Yurlanov. The email appeared to have been sent 24 minutes after the Belarusian authorities warned the plane's crew there was a bomb threat.

The email's timing was first reported by the Daily Beast and Newlines magazine.

Proton declined to comment on specifics of the email, saying that its encryption made it impossible to "access or verify the contents of the message."

"However, we are able to see when the message was sent, and we can confirm that the message in question was sent after the plane was redirected," the Swiss company said in a statement.

It added that "we have not seen credible evidence that the Belarusian claims are true and we will support European authorities in their investigations upon receiving a legal request."

The Belarusian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Yurlanov also did not return messages seeking comment. A publicly available Unix timestamp associated with Yurlanov's account suggests that his email address was created around May 14, about a week before the threat was made.

Proton's disclosure came as Ireland's transport minister said the United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organization had agreed to probe the forced grounding. European leaders are meanwhile drawing up new sanctions against Belarus over Sunday's incident. read more

Reporting by Raphael Satter; editing by John Stonestreet

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