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AP Top News at 11:44 a.m. EDT

AP INVESTIGATION: Nuclear smugglers sought extremist buyers
CHISINAU, Moldova (AP) - In the backwaters of Eastern Europe, authorities working with the FBI have interrupted four attempts in the past five years by gangs with suspected Russian connections that sought to sell radioactive material to Middle Eastern extremists, The Associated Press has learned. The latest known case came in February this year, when a smuggler offered a huge cache of deadly cesium - enough to contaminate several city blocks - and specifically sought a buyer from the Islamic State group. Criminal organizations, some with ties to the Russian KGB's successor agency, are driving a thriving black market in nuclear materials in the tiny and impoverished Eastern European country of Moldova, investigators say. The successful busts, however, were undercut by striking shortcomings: Kingpins got away, and those arrested evaded long prison sentences, sometimes quickly returning to nuclear smuggling, AP found.

Russia fires missiles as Syrian troops launch ground push
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) - Russian warships in the Caspian Sea fired cruise missiles as Syrian government troops launched a ground offensive Wednesday in central Syria, in the first major combined air-and-ground assault since Moscow began its military campaign in the country last week. The missiles, launched from a Russian flotilla in the Caspian Sea, travelled 1,400 kilometers (900 miles) over "unpopulated areas" to target militants, according to a Russian officer. The latest developments - exactly a week after Russia began launching airstrikes in Syria - add a new layer to the fray in the complex war that has torn this Mideast country apart since 2011.

South Carolina still on edge from flooding; 2 people missing
GEORGETOWN, S.C. (AP) - Rivers rose and dams bulged Wednesday as South Carolina faced another anxious day of waiting for the floodwaters to recede, and dive teams searched for two people who disappeared in waters after they drove around a barricade. Along the coast, residents prepared for a second round of flooding as rivers swollen from days of devastating rains make their way toward the Atlantic. In the Columbia area, where some returned home to assess damage and clean up, the threat of more flooding still hadn't lifted. About 1,000 residents near the compromised Beaver Dam were told to evacuate Wednesday morning, though the order was lifted several hours later when crews shored up the dam.

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Did US strike on Afghan clinic exceed combat authority?
WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. airstrike on a hospital in Afghanistan, which U.S. officials have called a "mistake," may have exceeded the rules American forces have operated under since their combat mission ended nearly a year ago, officials say. U.S. officials have declined to discuss most circumstances of the attack in Kunduz, which killed 22 civilians, because American and Afghan investigations are underway. Gen. John F. Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told a Senate committee on Tuesday that as a result of the strike, he is requiring that every U.S. service member in Afghanistan be retrained on the circumstances in which U.S.

Mother-son bond over guns links Oregon, Connecticut slayings
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - The deadly shooting last week at an Oregon community college has an eerie parallel with the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 20 pupils and six adult staff members in 2012. Like Adam Lanza, the gunman in the Connecticut massacre, Christopher Harper-Mercer was living a mostly solitary life with a mom who shared his fascination with firearms. Both stories illustrate the struggles parents face caring for a deeply troubled child, struggles that can inadvertently lead to a volatile outcome made easier by ready access to weaponry. "When you begin to bring guns into the home environment where you have that dangerous cocktail of behavior, that's pretty unbelievable," said Mary Ellen O'Toole, a former FBI profiler who directs George Mason University's forensic science program.

As Bush campaigns, Florida struggles with his schools legacy
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Jeb Bush's signature achievement in education policy as Florida governor may be faltering. Bush championed what became known as Common Core education standards, and as governor achieved a set of high-stakes tests for students and a system of grading schools. They became the centerpiece of an education agenda that defines much of his legacy in office. In the Republican presidential race, any mention of Common Core is a red flag for conservatives. Bush rarely talks about it by name as he campaigns. But he's not backed down on what is the core of Common Core - the conviction that states need to raise school standards.

As Clinton campaigns, complications with her old boss arise
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama seemed to call Hillary Rodham Clinton's idea of a no-fly zone in Syria "half-baked." Clinton described the president's immigration strategy as "harsh and aggressive." And as Obama tries to rally Democrats around the chief economic proposal of his second term, the party's presidential front-runner has stayed conspicuously silent. With Clinton looking for ways to distinguish her ideas from those of her former boss, their relationship has grown increasingly complicated. No issue presents more potential for friction than trade. For months, Clinton has resisted weighing in on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has divided the Democratic base.

Thousands of drug inmates approved for early prison release
WASHINGTON (AP) - Drug criminals once described by prosecutors as unrepentant repeat offenders are among those poised to benefit from new sentencing guidelines that are shrinking punishments for thousands of federal prisoners, according to an Associated Press review of court records. Many defendants cleared for early release starting this fall fit a more sympathetic profile: small-time dealers targeted by a draconian approach to drug enforcement. But an AP analysis of roughly 100 court cases also identified defendants who carried semi-automatic weapons, had past convictions for crimes including robbery and assault, moved cocaine shipments across states and participated in international heroin smuggling.

Scientists win Nobel chemistry award for work on DNA repair
STOCKHOLM (AP) - Three scientists from Sweden, the U.S. and Turkey won the Nobel Prize in chemistry on Wednesday for showing how cells repair damaged DNA, work that's inspired the development of new cancer treatments. Swedish scientist Tomas Lindahl, American Paul Modrich and U.S.-Turkish national Aziz Sancar shared the 8 million Swedish kronor (about $960,000) award for research done in the 1970s and '80s. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said their work on DNA repair had provided "fundamental knowledge" about how cells function and shed light on the mechanisms behind both cancer and aging. Lindahl, 77, is an emeritus group leader at Francis Crick Institute and Emeritus director of Cancer Research UK at Clare Hall Laboratory in Britain.

Keuchel sharp, Astros beat Yankees 3-0 in AL wild-card game
NEW YORK (AP) - A year ago, no one could've pictured this. Yet here they were, Dallas Keuchel and the Houston Astros, soaking in champagne, merrily posing for a victory shot on the mound at Yankee Stadium. After all that losing, this was one October win to remember. Pitching on three days' rest for the first time in his career, Keuchel baffled New York for six innings of three-hit ball. Colby Rasmus and Carlos Gomez homered, and the Astros beat the Yankees 3-0 Tuesday night in the American League wild-card game. "Nobody really gave us anything at the start of the year.

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