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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

British-Indian student acquitted after ‘Taliban’ joke to blow up plane

Aditya Verma, a student of economics at Bath University, was on his way to the island of Menorca with friends in July 2022 when he made the remarks on Snapchat, claiming that he is a member of the Taliban.

LONDON:

A British-Indian student has been acquitted by a Spanish court after he was accused of public disorder for joking about blowing up a plane in which he was travelling along with his friends.

Aditya Verma, a student of economics at Bath University, was on his way to the island of Menorca with friends in July 2022 when he made the remarks on Snapchat, claiming that he is a member of the Taliban.

“On my way to blow up the plane. I’m a member of the Taliban,” the message, sent before Verma departed Gatwick airport, said.

In a trial held at the National Court in Madrid, a judge in Madrid ruled on Friday that “no explosive… was found that would lead one to believe it was a real threat.”

A court in Madrid heard on Monday that the message was picked up by the UK security services on Gatwick’s Wi-Fi network, who then alerted Spanish authorities, following which two Spanish F-18 fighter jets were sent to flank the aircraft with Verma onboard.

However, a spokesperson for Gatwick Airport told BBC News that its Wi-Fi network “does not have that capability,” even as Snapchat, an encrypted app, refused to comment on the case.

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

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”.

Verma, who was 18 at the time of the incident, was arrested and kept in a police cell for two days and was later released on bail.

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

Appearing in the court on Monday, Verma said the message was “a joke in a private group setting” and that “the intention was never to cause public distress or cause public harm”.

“It was just sent to my friends I was travelling with on the day… Since school, it’s been a joke because of my features… It was just to make people laugh,” he said.

If he had been found guilty, the student faced a fine of up to 22,500 euros (19,300 pounds) and a further 95,000 euros in expenses to cover the cost of the jets being scrambled. (IANS)

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