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Michael O'Leary, CEO of Ryanair. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images

The forced landing of a Ryanair passenger airplane by Belarusian officials was “a state-sponsored hijacking" meant to target a journalist and dissident on board, Michael O’Leary, the airline's CEO, told Politico.

Why it matters: The diversion of the plane was an attempt by Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko to "remove" journalist Roman Protasevich, a prominent opposition figure living in exile, O'Leary said.

  • Lukashenko, known as "Europe's last dictator, has cracked down on mass protests and dissent in the wake of a fraudulent election last year.
  • How European Union leaders respond to the hijacking, which O'Leary said involved Belarus KGB agents, will be a key test for the bloc's foreign policy.

Catch up quick: The plane was in Belarusian airspace headed to Lithuania when pilots were told to land in Minsk because of “a potential security threat on board," per a Ryanair statement.

  • Protasevich, who reportedly told other passengers he was facing the death penalty, was arrested during the stop. No bomb was found on board.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and top EU officials have demanded Protasevich's immediate release.

What he's saying: “It was clear that the intent of the Belarusian authorities was to remove a journalist and his traveling companion. We believe some KGB agents were offloaded from the aircraft as well,” O'Leary told Politico.

  • “This is a case of state-sponsored hijacking, state-sponsored piracy. Our crew did a phenomenal job to get that aircraft and almost all the passengers out of Minsk after six hours.”
  • “It was extremely frightening for our crew and passengers. They were held under armed guard and had their bags searched.”

Go deeper: Global outcry as Belarus accused of "hijacking" plane to detain activist

Go deeper

Updated May 24, 2021 - World

Global outcry as Belarus accused of "hijacking" plane to detain activist

Raman Pratasevich. Photo: Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images

European Union leaders were due to meet Monday to discuss possible sanctions against Belarus after a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania carrying an opposition activist was diverted to Minsk over a supposed bomb threat.

Why it matters: Raman Pratasevich, a journalist and opposition leader wanted by the Belarusian government, was detained at the Minsk airport once the plane landed. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted, "Those responsible for the Ryanair hijacking must be sanctioned."

May 23, 2021 - World

Blinken calls for release of activist detained by Belarus

Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Photo: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Belarus' diversion of a commercial plane and subsequent arrest of opposition leader Raman Pratasevich in a statement Sunday, and called for Pratasevich's "immediate release."

State of play: Blinken said the U.S. is working with its partners to coordinate a response and he supports the "the earliest possible meeting" of the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization to investigate the matter.

DOJ declines to defend Mo Brooks in Capitol riot lawsuit

Rep. Mo Brooks during a June news conference on Capitol Hill. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The Department of Justice declined late Tuesday to represent Rep. Mo Brooks in a civil lawsuit against the Georgia congressman concerning the Capitol riot.

Why it matters: Brooks had argued he should have immunity in the suit, filed by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) against him, former President Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr. and lawyer Rudy Giuliani over the insurrection. He said he was acting as a government employee when he spoke at a rally before the insurrection.