NSA spy leaks: Edward Snowden leaves Moscow airport

Lawyer Anatoly Kucherena: "He has left the airport to go to a safe location"

US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden has left the Moscow airport where he had been staying since June after being granted temporary asylum.

Mr Snowden's lawyer said he had left after receiving the papers he needed to enter Russian territory from Sheremetyevo Airport's transit zone.

The US has charged Mr Snowden with leaking details of its electronic surveillance programmes.

Russia's decision is likely to further strain its ties with the US.

At the scene

For someone willing to disclose the dirty secrets of others, Edward Snowden is infuriatingly keen on keeping private.

That, at least, is a view of journalists, dozens of whom were patrolling the inside of Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport trying to get a glimpse of this famous fugitive.

Each hint of Snowden's possible appearance brought about a sea of cameras and a forest of microphone holders. Passions ran high, some cameras were trampled upon.

All in vain. Edward Snowden slipped away in a taxi, an unremarkable grey sedan.

That is, if we believe Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena, who has handled Snowden's asylum in Russia. According to him the ex-CIA contractor took the taxi to the location of his own choosing.

Many Russians find it improbable that the vast Russian security machine is content simply to see Mr Snowden go.

Then again, he's left the airport on Leningradskoe Shosse, a road notorious for its traffic jams.

Should Russian Federal Security Service change its mind, it can probably find Edward Snowden still stuck in traffic not far from the place which was his home for more than a month.

Mr Snowden later issued a statement via the website of the whistleblowing organisation Wikileaks thanking Russia for granting him asylum and accusing the US government of showing "no respect" for international law.

"Over the past eight weeks we have seen the Obama administration show no respect for international or domestic law, but in the end the law is winning," he said.

The BBC's Daniel Sandford in Moscow says a strongly worded US reaction can be expected shortly.

US Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, described Thursday's development as "a setback to US-Russia relations".

"Edward Snowden is a fugitive who belongs in a United States courtroom, not a free man deserving of asylum in Russia," he said.

Republican Senator John McCain also issued a stinging rebuke, saying Russia's actions were "a disgrace and a deliberate effort to embarrass the United States".

"It is a slap in the face of all Americans. Now is the time to fundamentally rethink our relationship with [President] Putin's Russia. We need to deal with the Russia that is, not the Russia we might wish for," he said.

Mr Snowden arrived in Moscow on 23 June from Hong Kong, after making his revelations.

The affair has caused diplomatic ructions around the world.

'Most pursued man'

Mr Snowden left the airport at about 14:00 local time (10:00 GMT), the airport press office told the BBC.

Despite a heavy presence of journalists, his departure was apparently not spotted by the media.

His lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, said: "His location is not being made public for security reasons, since he is the most pursued man on the planet.

"He himself will decide where he will go."

Wikileaks, which has been helping him since he made his revelations, said in a tweet that he had been given asylum.

"Edward Snowden was granted temporary asylum in Russia for a year and has now left Moscow airport under the care of Wikileaks' Sarah Harrison," it said.

Ms Harrison is a member of the Wikileaks legal team and has been helping Mr Snowden.

Mr Kucherena also said he had been awarded temporary asylum and showed a photocopy of the document issued to his client.

Snowden leaks timeline

Edward Snowden in Hong Kong, 6 June

The document, which resembles a Russian ID card and features a fingerprint, shows an issue date of 31 July and expiry date of 31 July 2014.

'Rather insignificant'

US Attorney General Eric Holder has given Moscow an assurance that Mr Snowden will not face the death penalty if extradited.

But the Russians say they do not intend to hand him over.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said previously that Mr Snowden could receive asylum in Russia on condition he stopped leaking US secrets.

Mr Putin's foreign policy adviser Yury Ushakov said the situation was "rather insignificant" and should not influence relations with the US.

"We know what sort of noise surrounds this [situation] in America, but we have not received any signals from the United States," he said.

US President Barack Obama is due to visit Moscow next month.

Mr Obama was holding a private meeting with US legislators in the Oval Office on Thursday to discuss the surveillance programmes run by the National Security Agency (NSA).

Among the information leaked by Mr Snowden, which first surfaced in the UK's Guardian newspaper in early June, was the revelation that the NSA was collecting the telephone records of tens of millions of Americans.

The systems analyst also disclosed that the NSA had tapped directly into the servers of nine internet firms including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to track online communication in a surveillance programme known as Prism.

Prism was allegedly also used by Britain's electronic eavesdropping agency, GCHQ. The agency was further accused of sharing vast amounts of data with the NSA.

Allegations that the NSA had spied on its EU allies caused indignation in Europe.

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