A British former press prodigy who joked to friends that he was a member of the Taliban who would blow up the plane he was about to board has been cleared of any wrongdoing.
Aditya Verma, 20, admitted telling his friends before flying to Spain: “I'm on my way to blow up the plane.” “I'm a member of the Taliban” during his one-day trial on Monday in Madrid.
But the university student insisted he was joking with his friends in a private Snapchat group before being dragged off the plane.
Aditya said he had “no intention” of mobilizing the two Spanish fighter jets that accompanied the crowded EasyJet plane carrying him and 140 other holidaymakers as it approached Menorca in July 2022, along with police and firefighters on the ground.
And a judge ruled today that Aditya, who has represented England at several international chess tournaments and once met legendary player Gary Kasparov, should be cleared of any wrongdoing.
Aditya Verma, a former British chess prodigy, has admitted in court that before flying to Spain he told his friends: “I'm on my way to blow up the plane.” I'm a member of the Taliban. He has now been acquitted by a Spanish court.
Aditya Verma insisted in court on Monday (pictured) that he had been joking with his friends in a private Snapchat group
Verma first appeared in court on July 5, 2022 in a closed-door hearing
A Spanish F-18 fighter jet, seen through the aircraft window, escorts an Easyjet flight en route from London to the Spanish holiday island of Menorca after Verma made a false bomb threat on July 3, 2022
Aditya was 18 when he was arrested after landing on the island for a post-baccalaureate holiday on July 3, 2022, after graduating from St Olave's Grammar School in Orpington, Kent.
He was later charged with a public order offense following a lengthy closed-door investigation before attending his trial on Monday.
Aditya had sent the message in a private group, which he shared with six friends, along with a photo of him wearing sunglasses and a hat.
British authorities picked up on Aditya's message while he was still at Gatwick airport and sent a warning to Spanish authorities. Spain sent two fighter jets to escort the packed EasyJet plane to Menorca.
Aditya told the Audiencia Nacional court in Madrid on Monday: “Because of my facial features, I was called Taliban at school and I always joked about it, and I know that the Taliban is considered a terrorist group.”
“But I didn’t think it would scare passengers because it was sent to a private friend group and wasn’t intended for them.”
Aditya, who is currently studying economics at the University of Bath, confessed under cross-examination: “In the message I sent with the photo before we boarded, I said, 'On the way to blow up the plane.' I am a member of the Taliban.
“It was a joke in a private group that was sent to friends that I had known mostly for eight, nine, 10 years and I was fooling around with that day.”
Spanish prosecutors said on Monday they would ask him to pay 94,782.47 euros (£81,251) for the costs of crashing a Eurofighter military plane and a fine of 22,500 euros (£19,288) if he was found guilty.
But Judge Jose Manuel Fernandez-Prieto said today his actions did not constitute a crime after handing down his verdict just three days after the end of the fast-track trial at the central Audiencia Nacional court.
He said of the British teenager's actions: “There is no apparent intention to provoke the mobilization of a military aircraft or a police or other emergency service.”
He added: “It cannot be ignored that the message and the accompanying photo were neither sent to any official organization nor published in a way that would inevitably lead to an appropriate mobilization of the relevant police, relief or emergency services.”
“On the contrary, they were shared in a purely private environment, between the defendant and the friends he was flying with, to which only they had access.”
“The defendant could not even begin to believe (as he explicitly stated at trial) that the joke he was playing on his friends could be intercepted or discovered by the British services or by third parties outside his friends who had received the message .”
The chess prodigy (pictured) has won national championships and even came fourth at the World Youth Championship
Aditya, who has represented England at several international chess tournaments and once met legendary player Gary Kasparov, was summoned to court today
Last week it was revealed that Spanish prosecutors wanted Aditya to pay 94,782.47 euros (£81,251) for the cost of scrapping a Eurofighter military aircraft and a fine of 22,500 euros (£19,288) if found guilty
British security services are believed to have picked up the message via Gatwick Airport's public Wi-Fi service, although there was no confirmation at trial.
Aditya admitted that one of his friends might have used the airport's WiFi.
A friend who testified on his behalf disputed a prosecutor's claim that one of them may have shared the “Taliban bomb joke” with others outside his Snapchat group and that he could have been picked up that way.
Asked by his defense lawyer Margarita Quintana what he thought when he saw two military jets near his Easyjet plane, even though only one aircraft was mentioned in the indictment before the trial, Aditya replied: “Shortly before that time, the war between Ukraine and Russia.” I thought it was a military exercise related to this conflict.
“The pilot said the jets were dispatched because he accidentally sent a distress signal due to a communications error and the issue was being addressed.”
“My friends and I were detained when we landed and locked in a room for a few hours. Afterwards I was told that I would be arrested and taken to a police station.”
The court heard that the warning that led to the mobilization of Spanish fighter jets came from British intelligence services.
It was not made clear how they obtained the information, although a friend of Aditya said the information – including the photo – could have been obtained from Gatwick Airport's WiFi servers, which one of the friends in the Snapchat group was using.
One of the three analysts who testified, who was not named and referred to only by a reference number, said he had not discovered any links to terrorist groups on Aditya's phone.
He suggested that one of the seven members of the Snapchat group could have published the “bombshell joke” and image by sharing it with others.
But Aditya's friend, who was on the same flight to Menorca and gave his name as Akash Raf in court, insisted: “If someone had taken a screenshot or shared the photo with someone outside the group, we would all have a message on our phone received 'phones and we didn't get anything.'
He added, “I have known Aditya for years. It was just a light-hearted joke in a friend group. I know he's not a Taliban.'
The Briton's defense lawyer said in her emotional closing speech that Aditya's comments in a “private group” were made public without judicial authorization and that if anyone should be held responsible for the costs of Spain's response, it would be the British authorities for “breach.” should be entitled to privacy.'
She added, “Aditya didn't post or promote his message on Facebook.” What he did was like cracking a joke with friends in the car.
“Who has the authority to intervene in a joke?” If we as individuals are prevented from enjoying freedom of speech and the right to privacy, what else are we left with?
“This is not a criminal offense.” There was no malicious intent. “This boy was 18 years old and was on vacation, which was a reward for his academic achievements, and when he and his friends arrived in Menorca, they realized that they were in a nightmare.”
Aditya told Mail Online exclusively while back home in Orpington with his parents Anand and Dipti Prasad: “It was a moment of madness that I regret and I'm so sorry for the trouble I caused.” It was a joke and I didn't mean it.
“I'm sorry for ruining my friends' vacation, but it was all just a joke and I didn't want to scare anyone on the plane if they were afraid of what had happened.”
“I sent the Snapchat message to my friends as we boarded. It was a joke as we had said who would be stopped and searched by security.
“The message said, 'I'm going to blow up this plane.' “I’m a Taliban,” and now I just wish I hadn’t sent it.
“It was a stupid thing, but I thought since it was a private Snapchat only my friends would see it.”