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News Briefs

U.S. Warns Widespread Missile Sales Are a ‘Growing Threat’

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

The U.S. intelligence community warned Thursday that proliferation of medium-range ballistic missiles, driven primarily by sales from North Korea, presents an “immediate, serious and growing threat” to U.S. forces and allies and has “significantly altered” the strategic balances in the Middle East and Asia.

The unexpectedly dire assessment by the National Intelligence Council also warns for the first time that rogue nations developing ballistic missiles will seek to build systems to jam, evade or overwhelm potential U.S. anti-missile defense systems. It adds that Russia and China “probably” will sell their own counter-measure technology to other countries.

The report thus provides strong ammunition to both sides in the contentious political debate over whether the United States should build national or regional anti-missile systems. Missile-defense supporters cite the threat from North Korea as justification, while critics predict the systems will never work and could spark a new arms race.

Although the number of nuclear-armed missiles capable of striking the United States has decreased since the Cold War, the report says the world has grown less secure because missile technology has spread to unpredictable regimes such as North Korea and Iran. Such states may threaten to use missiles as a means of diplomatic blackmail, rather than for warfare.

Apartment-Building Bomb Kills 32, May Be Tied to Islamic Separatists

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- MOSCOW

A blast that destroyed much of a nine-story Moscow apartment building Thursday, killing 32 people and burying dozens more under a pile of rubble, was caused by a bomb and is being investigated as a terrorist act that may be linked to Russia’s war with Islamic separatists, authorities said.

The explosion, which officials said was caused by a device on a lower floor, fueled widespread fear that the war against Islamic insurgents in the southern republic of Dagestan is spreading to Moscow.

The blast, which officials initially suspected was caused by a natural gas leak, was the third to kill Russian civilians in 10 days. On Saturday, a car bomb demolished an apartment building that housed Russian military families in the Dagestani city of Buynaksk, killing at least 64 people. On Aug. 31, a bomb rocked a popular Moscow shopping mall next to the Kremlin, killing one and injuring 41.

After touring the latest disaster scene on Thursday, Moscow Mayor Yuri I. Luzhkov tied the carnage to the conflict in Dagestan and said the blast was caused by hexogen, a plastic explosive often used in military operations.

“Now it is possible to claim with the highest degree of certainty that this was an act of sabotage, this was a terrorist act,” Luzhkov said.

The nighttime blast was so severe that a large section in the middle of the building collapsed, leaving little hope of finding survivors within. Rescuers assisted by cranes worked throughout the day and into the night, but a fire in the ruins reduced chances of survival.