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Snowden's destination unknown

By Agencies in Hong Kong and Moscow | China Daily | Updated: 2013-06-24 07:16

 Snowden's destination unknown

Two cars of the embassy of Ecuador in Moscow are parked outside the terminal where Edward Snowden is believed to have landed in Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport, on Sunday. Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

Snowden's destination unknown

An aircraft believed to be carrying Edward Snowden landed in Moscow on Sunday after Hong Kong let the former US security contractor leave the territory, despite Washington's efforts to extradite him to face espionage charges.

The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks said Snowden was heading for a "democratic nation" which it did not name, although a source at the Russian airline Aeroflot said he would fly on within 24 hours to Cuba and then planned to go to Venezuela.

The Hong Kong government said earlier it had "no legal basis" to prevent Snowden leaving because the US government had failed to provide enough information to justify its provisional arrest warrant for him.

Snowden, 30, landed at Sheremetyevo Airport in the north of Moscow at 5:05 pm, but there was no immediate official confirmation of where he would head next, an AFP correspondent at the airport said.

Snowden, who worked for the National Security Agency, had been hiding in Hong Kong since leaking details about US surveillance activities to news media.

"It's a shocker," said Simon Young, a law professor with Hong Kong University. "I thought he was going to stay and fight it out. The US government will be irate."

A source at Aeroflot said Snowden would fly from Moscow to Cuba on Monday and then planned to go on to Venezuela. The South China Morning Post earlier said his final destination might be Ecuador or Iceland.

'Political asylum'

The WikiLeaks anti-secrecy website said it helped Snowden find "political asylum in a democratic country".

It added in an update on Twitter that he was accompanied by diplomats and legal advisers and was traveling via a safe route for the purposes of seeking asylum.

"The WikiLeaks legal team and I are interested in preserving Mr Snowden's rights and protecting him as a person," former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon, legal director of WikiLeaks and lawyer for the group's founder Julian Assange, said in a statement.

"What is being done to Mr Snowden and to Mr Julian Assange - for making or facilitating disclosures in the public interest - is an assault against the people."

Assange has taken sanctuary in the Ecuadorean embassy in London and said last week he would not leave even if Sweden stopped pursuing sexual assault claims against him because he feared arrest on the orders of the United States.

US authorities have charged Snowden with theft of US government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence to an unauthorized person, with the latter two charges falling under the US Espionage Act.

The US had asked the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to send Snowden home.

The US government earlier made a request to the Hong Kong government for the issue of a provisional warrant of arrest against Mr Snowden, the Hong Kong government said in a statement.

Since the documents provided by the US government did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law, the Hong Kong government has requested the US government to provide additional information. ... As the Hong Kong government has yet to have sufficient information to process the request for provisional warrant of arrest, there is no legal basis to restrict Mr Snowden from leaving Hong Kong, the statement said.

It did not say what further information it needed.

Iceland refused on Friday to say whether it would grant asylum to Snowden, a former employee of contractor Booz Allen Hamilton who worked at an NSA facility in Hawaii.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said earlier this month that Russia would consider granting Snowden asylum if he were to ask for it and pro-Kremlin lawmakers supported the idea, but there has been no indication he has done so.

The South China Morning Post earlier quoted Snowden offering new details about the US' spy activities, including accusations of US hacking of Chinese mobile telephone companies and targeting China's Tsinghua University.

Documents previously leaked by Snowden revealed that the NSA has access to vast amounts of internet data such as e-mails, chat rooms and video from large companies, including Facebook and Google, under a government programme known as PRISM.


Snowden's destination unknown

(China Daily 06/24/2013 page11)

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