In a bizarre incident during the summer of 2022, a young British man, Aditya Verma, found himself entangled in legal proceedings after making a seemingly ill-conceived joke on social media.
The incident unfolded at London’s Gatwick Airport, where Verma, about to embark on a flight to Menorca, posted a provocative message on Snapchat that triggered a series of events leading to a terror alert and a subsequent demand for reimbursement by the Spanish Ministry of Defence.
The joke unveiled
Aditya Verma, an 18-year-old university student at the time, decided to share photos of the check-in area with his friends on Snapchat just before boarding. The message he included in the post, stating, “On my way to blow up the plane, I’m a member of the Taliban,” raised alarms when it was discovered by British intelligence after the plane had already entered French airspace.
Upon learning of the message, British intelligence promptly alerted Spanish authorities, initiating a sequence of events that involved the deployment of a Eurofighter jet to escort the plane. The Spanish Ministry of Defence took the matter seriously, demanding €94,782.47 in reimbursement for the expenses incurred in scrambling the fighter jet.
The defence’s perspective
Aditya Verma defended himself in Spain’s National Court against charges of public disorder. He claimed that the post was intended as a joke shared within a private group of friends. Verma argued that the message was a response to teasing from his friends about his Pakistani features and was never meant to cause public distress. He expressed surprise at the severity of the response, asserting that he thought the fighter jets were part of a military exercise related to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
The Spanish Penal Code stipulates that individuals who falsely simulate a situation requiring police or emergency services’ assistance may be punished. During the trial, Verma faced questions about the potential fear and distress caused by his actions. While he is not facing terrorism charges, he could be fined up to €22,500 if found guilty. The Spanish defence ministry is also seeking €95,000 in expenses.