Fugitive Snowden in Moscow, seeks Ecuador asylum

Fugitive Snowden in Moscow, seeks Ecuador asylum

MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
Fugitive Snowden in Moscow, seeks Ecuador asylum

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, an analyst with a U.S. defence contractor, is seen in this still image taken from video during an interview by The Guardian in his hotel room in Hong Kong June 6, 2013. REUTERS photo

Fugitive US ex-intelligence worker Edward Snowden on June 23 arrived in Russia on his way to Ecuador, seeking to win asylum in the leftist Latin American state and evade arrest after leaking sensational details of cyber-espionage by Washington.

Snowden, the target of a US arrest warrant issued June 21 after the computer expert lifted the lid on massive secret surveillance programmes, arrived in Moscow on a direct flight from Hong Kong and was expected to head to Ecuador via Cuba.

The US State Department reacted angrily to the decision by the Hong Kong government to allow the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor to travel, saying he should "not be allowed to proceed further".

Snowden, 30, landed at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on a scheduled Aeroflot flight, an AFP correspondent at the airport said. He did not emerge into the main terminal area where crowds of journalists quizzed his jet-lagged and bewildered fellow passengers if they had seen the fugitive Snowden on the flight.

Airport officials said Snowden in fact never crossed the border and would spend the night in the Vozdushny Express "capsule hotel" inside the departures area ahead of his next flight.

Russian media reports cited sources within Aeroflot as saying he would fly onwards to Cuba tomorrow.

Ecuador receives asylum request

Reports initially said the man behind one of the most significant security breaches in US history would then fly to the Venezuelan capital Caracas, but Ecuador Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said he had asked Quito for asylum.

"The government of Ecuador has received an asylum request from Edward J. Snowden," Patino said on Twitter.

Ecuador, led by outspoken leftist President Rafael Correa, has been sheltering WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is wanted by Sweden, at its London embassy for the past year.

The WikiLeaks website said it had helped organise Snowden's safe exit and confirmed Snowden "is bound for the Republic of Ecuador via a safe route for the purposes of asylum".

A US source familiar with the case said in Washington June 23 that the United States had revoked Snowden's passport. But Russian officials indicated that this caused no problem.

"If he has asked for asylum in Ecuador then they could give him a refugee document or even Ecuadorian citizenship allowing him to continue his journey," a security source told Interfax. A source at Sheremetyevo told Interfax that "transit passenger" Snowden was still at the airport. "He would not be able to leave the airport even in a diplomatic car - he has neither a standard nor a diplomatic visa," the official said.

AFP correspondents earlier saw a diplomatic car at VIP arrivals with the flag of Ecuador. The Ecuadorean ambassador to Moscow was reportedly at the airport to meet Snowden.

Former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon, legal director of WikiLeaks, condemned the pursuit of both Assange and Snowden as an "assault against the people".

WikiLeaks confirmed that Snowden was accompanied by a British citizen named Sarah Harrison, whom it described as a "journalist, and legal researcher" working with the WikiLeaks legal team.