he never intended to "cause public distress".
British-Indian student Aditya Verma has been acquitted by a Spanish court after joking that he was a member of the Taliban as he boarded a plane.
The plane was travelling from London Gatwick to Menorca.
In July 2022, Verma, who was 18 at the time, joked to friends:
“On my way to blow up the plane. I’m a member of the Taliban.”
As a result, he was charged with public disorder. However, Verma asserted that he never intended to “cause public distress”.
A Madrid judge ruled that “no explosive… was found that would lead one to believe it was a real threat.”
The trial took place in Madrid on Monday, January 22, 2024.
Aditya Verma sent the message to his friends allegedly via Snapchat, just before boarding the aircraft. UK authorities subsequently picked up on the message.
While the plane was in the air, they flagged it to Spanish authorities.
Consequently, fighter jets flanked the aircraft and a search was conducted.
Verma, originally from Orpington, Kent, is a university student.
If he was convicted, he may have had to pay a fine of €22,500 (£19,300) and a further €95,000 (£81,200) in expenses.
A significant question raised throughout the case was how the message was received by authorities.
Although a potential answer was that Gatwick’s WiFi network could have intercepted it, a spokesperson for the airport denied any such capability.
As cited by the Europa Press News Agency, the judge concluded:
“For unknown reasons, [the message] was captured by the security mechanisms of England when the plane was flying over French airspace.”
It was added: “[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.”
An official Snapchat spokesperson denied to comment on the case.
According to its website, the social media platform has a goal to “maintain a safe and fun environment where Snapchatters are free to express themselves and stay in touch with their real friends”.
They stated: “We also work to proactively escalate to law enforcement any content appearing to involve imminent threats to life, such as school shooting threats, bomb threats and missing persons cases, and respond to law enforcement’s emergency requests for disclosure of data when law enforcement is handling a case involving an imminent threat to life.
“In the case of emergency disclosure requests from law enforcement, our 24/7 team usually responds within 30 minutes.”
The student was asked in court about his purpose behind sending the message.
Aditya Verma responded: “Since school, it’s been a joke because of my features. It was just to make people laugh.”