British Indian chess prodigy appears in Spanish court over Taliban ‘joke’

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

Photo: iStock

Pramod Thomas

A British Indian chess prodigy faced trial in a Spanish court on Monday (22) for a public disorder offense stemming from a Snapchat message sent in July 2022.

University student Aditya Verma, 20, on his way to Menorca with friends, jokingly wrote, “On my way to blow up the plane (I’m a member of the Taliban),” before departing from Gatwick airport.

Claiming that the message was intended as a private joke within a group of friends, Verma insisted during the trial that his intention was never to cause public distress or harm.

The British security services detected the message and alerted Spanish authorities while the EasyJet flight was still in the air.

As a result, two Spanish Air Force jets were scrambled to escort the plane, incurring significant expenses.

Upon landing in Menorca, the plane was thoroughly searched, and Verma, who was 18 at the time, was arrested.

After spending two days in a police cell, he was released on bail. Upon returning to the UK, he faced questioning from MI5 and MI6 before heading home to Orpington, Kent.

During Monday’s court proceedings, Verma, now studying economics at Bath University, maintained that the message was a humorous expression among friends and was not meant to be taken seriously.

When asked about his reaction to the fighter jets escorting the plane, Verma attributed it to a potential military exercise related to the Russia-Ukraine war.

Spanish police experts testified that while they found information on Verma’s phone related to conflicts between Pakistan and India and the possibilities of an Islamic State attack in that region, there was nothing linking him to jihadist radicalism.

Verma, therefore, does not face terrorism charges but could be fined up to £22,500 if found guilty. The Spanish defense ministry is also seeking over £81,000 in expenses.

In a twist to the legal proceedings, Verma’s defense argued that the British authorities should bear the costs of the operation, contending that the information was obtained without judicial authorisation, breaching Verma’s privacy.

The trial has gained attention as it raises questions about the limits of freedom of expression and the consequences of private messages being flagged by security services.

He is the son of a doctor who grew up in the affluent suburb of Orpington and attended a top grammar school, St Olave’s. He also represented England at the European youth championships in Prague in 2012, finishing fourth.

Verma was awarded a trophy by legendary Russian master Gary Kasparov. He is thought to have subsequently won four British championships.

The court is expected to deliver a verdict in the case in the coming days, reports said.