A trial is underway in Spain for Aditya Verma, a British man accused of causing public disorder by making a joke about blowing up a flight. Verma commented on Snapchat while travelling to the island of Menorca with friends in July 2022, BBC reported.
Mr Verma sent the message before departing Gatwick airport, which 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 student could be facing substantial expenses, as two Spanish Air Force jets were deployed.
Upon detection by UK security services, Mr Verma’s message was promptly brought to the attention of Spanish authorities while the easyJet plane was still in the air.
According to the proceedings in a Madrid court, it was assumed that the message raised concerns after being intercepted through Gatwick’s Wi-Fi network. Subsequently, two Spanish F-18 fighter jets were sent to flank the aircraft.
One of the jets closely trailed the plane until it touched down in Menorca, where an extensive search was conducted. Mr Verma, who was 18 at the time, was arrested and spent two days in police custody before being released on bail.
Upon returning to the UK, he underwent questioning by British intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6 before heading back to his home in 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.
Explaining why he sent that message, Mr Verma said, “Since school, it’s been a joke because of my features… It was just to make people laugh.”
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 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, BBC reported.
While Mr Verma is not facing terrorism charges or the prospect of imprisonment, he may be subjected to a fine of up to 22,500 Euros (Rs 20,35,145) if proven guilty. Additionally, the Spanish defence ministry is seeking reimbursement of 95,000 Euros (Rs 85,92,835) in expenses.