Fugitive U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden has won his bid for temporary asylum in Russia and left the transit zone of the Moscow airport to formally enter the country.
Snowden's lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, said Thursday that Russian authorities granted the 30-year-old former intelligence worker temporary asylum for a year. He left the airport within hours of being handed departure papers. The lawyer said Snowden was headed to a secret, secure location.
Snowden has been in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo airport for more than a month, unable to leave Moscow after the U.S. revoked his passport and sought his extradition to face espionage charges in the United States.
Snowden's release from the airport to enter Russia could heighten tensions between Moscow and Washington. U.S. President Barack Obama asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to expel Snowden, but the Russian leader refused. The U.S. has voiced its frustration that Russia has not handed over the former intelligence contractor.
Two months ago, Snowden leaked details of two clandestine surveillance programs being conducted by the secretive U.S. National Security Agency to capture massive telephone call and Internet messaging data in an effort to stop terrorist attacks. On Wednesday, Britain's Guardian newspaper published details of another Snowden leak, about the NSA's XKeyscore program to monitor Internet sites visited by millions of computer users.
Snowden fled first to Hong Kong before heading to Moscow on June 23. He has said that he ultimately wants to visit Latin America, where Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia have offered him asylum.