UPDATE, Sunday, 12:14 p.m. EDT:
The official Twitter account of the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks, which has been aiding National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden, retweeted several sources saying that his travel this weekend was illegal because his passport was invalid as of Saturday.
â€” Jon Williams (@WilliamsJon) June 23, 2013
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— Akiko Fujita (@AkikoFujita) June 23, 2013
UPDATE, Sunday, 12:09 p.m. EDT:
Edward Snowden has arrived at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport. Snowden did not disembark with the other passengers and reportedly may have been whisked away directly from the airport tarmac.
According to Agence France-Presse correspondents in Moscow, a diplomatic vehicle bearing an Ecuadorian flag was seen at the VIP arrivals area of the airport. “There were getting luggage straight from the plane into the car. It seemed a little strange. I saw three pieces of luggage,” an Aeroflot passenger, Jason Stephens, told AFP.
The U.S. Justice Department released a statement about Snowden’s departure from Hong Kong, saying it will work in cooperation with the governments of the various countries to which Snowden plans to travel. “We will continue to discuss this matter with Hong Kong and pursue relevant law-enforcement cooperation with other countries where Mr. Snowden may be attempting to travel,” Justice Department representative Nanda Chitre said in the statement.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE, Sunday, 10:05 a.m. EDT:
On the heels of a U.S. request for Edward Snowden’s extradition, the former National Security Agency contractor and whistle-blower, has reportedly left for a “third country” with the help of WikiLeaks.
According to a statement released by the Hong Kong government, Snowden was able to leave the Chinese city because the U.S. extradition request did not comply with Hong Kong’s domestic laws, adding that “there is no legal basis to restrict Mr Snowden from leaving Hong Kong.” The statement said Snowden left of “his own accord for a third country through a lawful and normal channel.”
Russia’s ITAR-Tass news agency citing an unnamed Aeroflot airline official who said that Snowden was en route to Moscow, after which he would proceed to Cuba on Monday, before traveling to Venezuela, which could be his final destination. The WikiLeaks organization tweeted that Snowden was “over Russian air space” and later said in a statement that he was bound for a “democratic nation via a safe route for the purpose of asylum.”
Hong Kong’s government did not confirm the country where Snowden was headed, although many had earlier suspected it would be Iceland.
Snowden had previously talked about Iceland as an ideal destination to seek asylum. According to the Telegraph, a businessman in Iceland who has claimed association with Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks organization has said a chartered plane would be made available to take Snowden to Iceland.
Snowden fled Hong Kong after U.S. federal prosecutors announced criminal charges against him Friday. Charges include espionage, theft, “unauthorized communication of national defense information” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person.” According to the New York Times, Snowden could serve a maximum of 30 years should he be convicted of all three charges.
Hong Kong, a part of China, operates under a “one country, two systems” arrangement, allowing the island territory to handle the case semiautonomously, apart from mainland China’s central government. Because of this circumstance, Snowden could have potentially sought asylum in Hong Kong, especially because Hong Kong asylum laws are currently in disarray due to two high-profile changes to its refugee laws made by the territory's highest courts.