British-Indian man who threatened to blow up plane acquitted by Spanish court

A Spanish court has acquitted a British-Indian man of public disorder after he joked to friends about being a member of the Taliban and planning to blow up a flight from London’s Gatwick to Menorca in Spain in 2022.

Aditya Verma admitted to telling his friends in July 2022: “On my way to blow up the plane. I’m a member of the Taliban.”

He however said he had made the joke in a private Snapchat group and never intended to “cause public distress”, the BBC reported.

A judge in Madrid ruled on Friday that “no explosive… was found that would lead one to believe it was a real threat”.

The judge at the trial, held at the National Court in the Spanish capital, on Monday – a year-and-a-half after the incident took place — ruled that Verma, of Orpington, Kent, should be cleared of any wrongdoing.

The message he sent to friends, before boarding the plane, went on to be picked up by UK security services. They then flagged it to Spanish authorities while the easyJet plane was still in the air.

Two Spanish F-18 fighter jets were sent to flank the aircraft. One followed the plane until it landed at Menorca, where the plane was searched.

Verma, who was 18 at the time, was arrested and held in a Spanish police cell for two days. He was later released on bail.

If he had been found guilty, the university student faced a fine of up to 22,500 euros and a further 95,000 euros in expenses to cover the cost of the jets being scrambled.

A key question in the case was how the message got out, considering Snapchat is an encrypted app.

One theory, raised in the trial, was that it could have been intercepted via Gatwick’s Wi-Fi network. But a spokesperson for the airport told BBC News that its network “does not have that capability”.

The judge in the resolution said that the message, “for unknown reasons, was captured by the security mechanisms of England when the plane was flying over French airspace”.

The message was made “in a strictly private environment between the accused and his friends with whom he flew, through a private group to which only they have access, so the accused could not even remotely assume… that the joke he played on his friends could be intercepted or detected by the British services, nor by third parties other than his friends who received the message,” the judgement added.

It was not immediately clear how UK authorities were alerted to the message, with the judge noting “they were not the subject of evidence in this trial”.

A spokesperson for Snapchat said the social media platform would not “comment on what’s happened in this individual case”.

Published By:

Sudeep Lavania

Published On:

Jan 28, 2024

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