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10 things you need to know today: April 18, 2013
Explosion destroys Texas plant, FBI examining Boston security camera footage, and more in our roundup of the stories that are making news and driving opinion
Members of the FBI search for clues on April 17 near the scene of the bombings at the Boston Marathon.
Members of the FBI search for clues on April 17 near the scene of the bombings at the Boston Marathon. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

1. EXPLOSION DESTROYS TEXAS FERTILIZER PLANT
A massive explosion destroyed a fertilizer plant in Texas near Waco on Wednesday, killing as many as 15 people, injuring more than 160, flattening dozens of homes, and spewing noxious fumes that forced a broad evacuation. Texas Public Safety Department spokesman D.L. Wilson said early Thursday the death toll was not yet official, and "could go up by the minute." The blast appeared to have been triggered by a large fire, which continued to burn for hours and raised fears that a second fertilizer tank could explode at the West Fertilizer Co. plant. "It's a lot of devastation," McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara said. "It looks like a war zone." [NBC News]
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2. GUN BACKGROUND CHECK DEAL FAILS IN SENATE
The Senate on Wednesday rejected a proposal to expand federal background checks on gun buyers — a key component to President Obama's push to curb gun violence in the wake of the Newtown school massacre. Obama reacted angrily, calling it a "pretty shameful day" for Washington. "How can something have 90 percent support and still not happen?" he asked. Sens. Joe Manchin, (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) hammered out the proposal to require background checks on purchases at gun shows and over the internet. The measure's supporters fell short of the 60 votes needed to defeat a filibuster and bring the deal to a vote. Many Republicans and several Democrats — most from red states with high gun ownership — opposed the measure, saying it violated gun rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment. [USA Today]
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3. SECURITY VIDEO MIGHT SHOW BOSTON MARATHON BOMB SUSPECT
Authorities said Wednesday that a Lord & Taylor security camera might have captured footage of a person placing one of the two bombs that exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. A man is seen walking near the scene of the blasts carrying a large backpack, which he puts down before leaving shortly before the deadly explosions. Investigators reportedly have clear photos of two persons of interest carrying suspicious bags like the ones believed to have been used to conceal the bombs. News of the footage triggered a media frenzy and rumors that an arrest had been made, but authorities said the video, while of "special interest," was just a piece of the puzzle. Massachusetts Gov. Deval L. Patrick said the investigation was progressing, but "it's going to be slow, it's going to be methodical." [Washington Post]
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4. MUSHARRAF FLEES COURT AFTER JUDGE ORDERS HIS ARREST
Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf fled an Islamabad courtroom on Thursday after a judge canceled his bail and ordered his arrest. The judge wanted Musharraf held to answer treason charges stemming from his 2007 clash with the judiciary in which he overrode the constitution and declared martial law. Musharraf's legal woes threatened to dash his hopes of reviving his political career after his return from nearly four years of self-imposed exile. Musharraf had hoped to win a seat in the National Assembly in May 11 elections, but earlier in the week he was barred from running, partly due to his legal fight with the judiciary. [Reuters]
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5. MAN ARRESTED IN D.C. RICIN SCARE
A Mississippi man, Paul Kevin Curtis, has been arrested on suspicion that he mailed letters — addressed to President Obama and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) — that may have been contaminated with the deadly poison ricin. The letters were intercepted at a government mail facility after they were flagged as suspicious, and never made it to the White House or Capitol Hill. The letter said that seeing a wrong and not exposing it "is to become a silent partner to its continuance," and were signed, "I am KC and I approve this message." [The Week]
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6. NORTH KOREA RESPONDS TO CALLS FOR TALKS
North Korea on Thursday set conditions for reducing the threat of war on the Korean Peninsula, saying it would only enter talks to reduce tensions if the United Nations lifted its sanctions and the U.S. and South Korea stopped holding joint military exercises. The demands were widely seen as having no chance of being accepted by the U.N., the U.S., or South Korea. Still, the fact that North Korea was responding at all to calls from South Korea and the U.S. for talks led diplomats to express hope that the isolated communist regime might be willing to back away from what South Korean President Park Geun-hye has called the recent "vicious cycle" of hostile rhetoric from the North since it faced widespread condemnation for its recent nuclear and missile tests. [New York Times]
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7. OBAMA EXPECTED AT MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR BOSTON MARATHON VICTIMS
President Obama is scheduled to travel to Boston on Thursday to attend an interfaith service honoring the victims of the Boston Marathon bomb attack. First Lady Michelle Obama and former Massachusetts governor and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney are also expected to attend the "Healing Our City" service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. The blasts on Monday killed three people — an 8-year-old boy, a 29-year-old woman, and a Chinese graduate student in her 20s — and injured more than 170 people. Sixty-two remained in local hospitals early Thursday, 12 still in critical condition. [BBC News]
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8. CHINA INVESTIGATES HUMAN-TO-HUMAN TRANSMISSION OF BIRD FLU
China is reportedly investigating the possibility that a deadly new strain of bird flu is being transmitted from human to human, which could allow it to spread more quickly and broadly. Seventeen people have been killed by the flu in China. Authorities have culled thousands of birds and closed live-poultry markets where infected birds were found. Some of the 82 people infected, however, appear to live in "family clusters," suggesting human-to-human transmission could be contributing to the outbreak. There's no concrete evidence to back up the theory, but the World Health Organization said Wednesday that some people testing positive for the H7N9 strain have had no known contact with poultry. [Reuters]
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9. DISGRACED OFFICIAL'S WIFE CONFESSES TO ROLE KILLING TEXAS PROSECUTORS
The wife of a disgraced former justice of the peace says her husband was the person who shot and killed two Texas prosecutors this year, to settle a grudge. Investigators at first suspected the killings were the handiwork of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, a white supremacist prison gang. Kim Lene Williams, however, says her husband, Eric Lyle Williams, was the one who shot Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland, his wife, Cynthia, and a top assistant prosecutor, Mark Hasse. Kim Williams reportedly confessed Wednesday that she drove the getaway car. She has been charged in the murders. Her husband, who was prosecuted by McLelland and Hasse on theft charges that ruined his career, has been arrested for allegedly sending officials threatening emails, but he has yet to be charged for the killings. [New York Times]
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10. DISNEY PROMISES ANNUAL STAR WARS UPDATES
Walt Disney Co. plans to release a new Star Wars film every year, starting in the summer of 2015, chairman Alan Horn announced Wednesday. The series of films will alternate between a new trilogy and spin-off films. The studio, which announced the news at the CinemaCon movie theater convention in Las Vegas, plans to get started with Star Wars: Episode VII, directed by J.J. Abrams. Disney first announced its plans to reboot the franchise after buying it from Lucasfilm last year. [CBS News]

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami HeraldFox News, and ABC News.

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