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Terror Campaign Continues as Apartment Bombing Kills 73

By Richard C. Paddock
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- MOSCOW

A deadly terror campaign targeting ordinary Muscovites in their sleep spread fear across the capital Monday as rescuers pulled 73 bodies from the ruins of an eight-story apartment building flattened by a pre-dawn bombing.

Police began searching every basement in Moscow and inspecting vehicles entering the city after the second bombing in less than a week demolished an apartment building six miles from the Kremlin. Officials said more people were buried in the rubble and the death toll could reach 100.

“Terrorism has declared war on us, people of Russia,” President Boris N. Yeltsin told the nation in a televised address. “This enemy has no conscience, no mercy, no honor.”

Other authorities quickly linked the bombing to the war in Dagestan. Russian troops are fighting rebels who invaded the mountainous republic from neighboring Chechnya in early August to establish an independent Islamic state.

Some analysts warned that Russian antagonism toward Chechens was growing so strong that it could ignite a much wider conflict and revive the Chechen War of the mid-1990s, which killed as many as 80,000 people and left Chechnya a shattered and lawless territory.

In Russia’s lower house of parliament, nationalist fever reached such a pitch that the State Duma Geopolitics Committee spent two hours seriously debating whether Russia should drop a nuclear bomb on Chechnya -- although that is hardly likely to happen. “We discussed it as a perfectly workable option,” committee chairman Alexei V. Mitrofanov said later.

“I am sorry to say that the country is on the verge of another civil war which will be far bloodier, more cruel and senseless,” said Andrei A. Piontkovsky, director of the Independent Institute for Strategic Studies, a Moscow think tank.

Piontkovsky said authorities have presented no hard evidence connecting the bombings to Chechen terrorists.