MAKHACHKALA, Russia — An explosion destroyed a five-story apartment building housing military officers in southern Russia late Saturday, killing at least seven people, according to news reports.
Rescue workers pulled 77 injured people from the rubble today, but at least 80 residents were still feared buried.
There was no word on the cause of the explosion in the town of Buynaksk, in the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan. But suspicion immediately fell on Islamic rebels: One group of rebels fought Russian troops for several weeks near the border with Chechnya last month, and others have been battling Russians for the past week in villages near Buynaksk.
Itar-Tass news agency said the injured were mostly women and children. It said the officers' families made up only a small part of the residents, while the rest were unrelated to the military.
The casualty toll was expected to rise, the Interfax news agency said, citing the Emergency Situations Ministry.
According to Interfax, the building housed 25 apartments belonging to Defense Ministry officials.
Two two-story houses adjoining the apartment building also were destroyed, and glass was blown out of several buildings in the vicinity, Itar-Tass reported. It said a 6-foot-deep crater was found next to the destroyed apartment building.
Citing unidentified officials, Itar-Tass said the explosion was caused by a car bomb. The report could not be independently confirmed.
The news agency also said that soon after the blast police found a car packed with 220 pounds of explosives near another apartment building that houses military officers in the town. It said that the car bomb had been set to explode early today but that engineers defused it.
Buynaksk, Dagestan's second-largest city, had been named a potential target of attack by the Islamic rebels who occupied several towns in western Dagestan for two weeks in August.
The rebels, who were seeking an independent Islamic state, retreated into neighboring Chechnya after heavy fighting with Russian troops.
The explosion occurred exactly a year after a bomb blast in the regional capital of Makhachkala. On Sept. 4, 1998, a car loaded with explosives blew up in a residential area of Makhachkala, killing 14 people and injuring 83.
Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin has vowed that Dagestani Islamic rebels will fail in their bid to break up Russia and has praised federal troops who were preparing for an intensified campaign in Dagestan.