British man Aditya Verma appears in Spanish court over plane-bomb hoax

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Aditya Verma was 18 when he sent a private Snapchat message joking about blowing up a plane
By Laura Gozzi
BBC News

A British man accused of public disorder after joking about blowing up a flight has gone on trial in Spain.

Aditya Verma made the comment on Snapchat on his way to the island of Menorca with friends in July 2022.

The message, sent before Mr Verma departed Gatwick airport, read: “On my way to blow up the plane (I’m a member of the Taliban).”

Mr Verma told a Madrid court on Monday: “The intention was never to cause public distress or cause public harm.”

If found guilty, the university student faces a hefty bill for expenses after two Spanish Air Force jets were scrambled.

Mr Verma’s message was picked up by the UK security services who flagged it to Spanish authorities while the easyJet plane was still in the air.

A court in Madrid heard it was assumed the message triggered alarm bells after being picked up via Gatwick’s Wi-Fi network.

Shortly after, the court was told two Spanish F-18 fighter jets were sent to flank the aircraft.

One jet followed the plane until it landed at Menorca, where the plane was searched extensively.

Mr Verma, who was 18 at the time, was arrested. He was kept in a police cell for two days and was later released on bail, the court was told.

Upon return to the UK he was questioned by the British military intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6, before he returned home to Orpington, Kent.

Appearing in court on Monday, Mr Verma – who is now studying economics at Bath University – said the message was “a joke in a private group setting”.

“It was just sent to my friends I was travelling with on the day,” he said.

Pressed about the purpose of the message, Mr Verma said: “Since school, it’s been a joke because of my features… It was just to make people laugh.”

One of the two Spanish F18 fighters seem through the window of the easyJet flight from London to Menorca

Asked what he thought when he saw the fighter jets flanking the plane, Mr Verma said: “The Russia-Ukraine war was happening so I thought it was a military exercise related to [that] conflict.”

He said that the plane’s pilot made an announcement, telling passengers that the fighter jets had been scrambled because of a distress signal that had been sent by mistake.

Police experts told the court that they combed Mr Verma’s phone and, although they found that he had researched clashes between Pakistan and India and the possibilities of an Islamic State attack in that area, they did not find anything of interest that linked Mr Verma to jihadist radicalism.

Mr Verma is not facing terrorism charges or a possible jail term, but could be fined up to €22,500 (£19,300) if found guilty and the Spanish defence ministry is demanding €95,000 in expenses.

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