MOSCOW: Fugitive US ex-intelligence worker Edward Snowden on Sunday 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 Friday 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 at 5:05 pm (1305 GMT), 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 on Monday. The SU 150 flight to Havana leaves at 1005 GMT.
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.
A US source familiar with the case said in Washington Sunday that the United States had revoked Snowden's passport. But Russian officials indicated that this caused no problem.
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.