The United States on Monday increased pressure on Russia to hand over Edward Snowden, the American charged with disclosing secret U.S. surveillance programs, and said it believed he was still in Moscow despite earlier reports he was leaving for Cuba.
The whereabouts of Snowden, until recently a contractor with the U.S. National Security Agency, remained a mystery. He had flown to Moscow after being allowed to leave Hong Kong on Sunday despite Washington asking the Chinese territory to detain him pending his possible extradition on espionage charges.
White House spokesman Jay Carney defended the administration’s attempts to bring Snowden into U.S. custody and instead blamed China for assisting in his release from Hong Kong. He said it would damage U.S. China relations.
Sources at the Russian airline Aeroflot had said he would be aboard a flight to Havana on Monday morning, but reporters who took the flight said another person occupied the seat that had been set aside for him, 17A, and he had not been seen.
“He didn’t take the flight (to Havana),” a source at Russia’s national airline Aeroflot told Reuters.
However, before the plane left for Cuba, a white van for VIPs approached it on the tarmac. Police stood by as a single man in a white shirt climbed the stairs on to the plane soon afterwards but he could not be identified by reporters watching in the transit area. It was not clear whether the plane had a section in which Snowden could have been concealed.
Julian Assange, the founder of anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks which is assisting Snowden, said the 30-year-old had fled to Moscow en route to Ecuador and was in good health in a “safe place” but did not say where he was now.