British-Indian student in trouble over Taliban ‘joke’ to blow up plane, gets grilled by MI5 and MI6

British university student Aditya Verma is facing trial over a Snapchat message jokingly claiming affiliation with the Taliban and an intent to destroy a plane.

Livemint
First Published25 Jan 2024
Aditya Verma was on an easyJet flight when he cracked the 'joke' to blow the plane Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
Aditya Verma was on an easyJet flight when he cracked the ’joke’ to blow the plane Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg(Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

Aditya Verma, a British university student, is facing trial over a Snapchat message that sparked a high-alert security response. Verma was en route to Menorca, Spain, with friends. His Snapchat message, sent from Gatwick Airport, humorously claimed affiliation with the Taliban and an intent to destroy the plane.

“On my way to blow up the plane (I'm a member of the Taliban)," he wrote.

This comment, apparently meant as a jest to friends, led to an immediate reaction from UK security services. The incident dates back to July 2022 when the British-Indian student was 18.

Also Read: Tehreek-e-Jihad Pakistan claims responsibility for rare attack in Punjab province. Who are they?

The UK authorities detected the message through Gatwick's Wi-Fi. They informed their Spanish counterparts while the easyJet flight was airborne. The Spanish Air Force deployed two F-18 jets, escorting the plane until its safe landing in Menorca. An extensive search ensued, yet nothing suspicious was found.

Verma, arrested upon landing, spent two days in police custody. Released on bail, he returned to the UK. He faced questioning by British intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6 before returning to his Orpington home. The incident occurred when Verma was preparing to start his economics studies at Bath University.

Also Read: What is Binance’s connection with terrorist groups like Hamas, Al Qaeda, ISIS, Palestinian Islamic Jihad? Explained

During his court appearance in Madrid, Spain, Verma emphasised the message was "a joke in a private group setting".

“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," the BBC quoted Verma telling the court.

When questioned about the message's nature, he linked it to a long-standing joke stemming from his appearance. “Since school, it's been a joke because of my features... It was just to make people laugh," he added.

Also Read: Gaza Hospital blast: IDF says ‘Islamic Jihad failed rocket launch hit hospital’ which killed about 500 people

Verma also shared his initial belief that the accompanying fighter jets were part of a military exercise related to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

No ties to jihadist radicalism

Spanish police, after analysing Verma's phone, found no ties to jihadist radicalism. He researched conflicts between Pakistan and India and potential Islamic State attacks in the region, but nothing incriminating was discovered.

Also Read: Afghanistan's Taliban officials 'miss the jihad life', turn to quiet quitting

Verma, not facing terrorism charges, could be fined up to €22,500 (over 20 lakh). The Spanish defence ministry also seeks €95,000 (over 83 lakh) in expenses for the response. A verdict from the Madrid court is expected soon.

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