Merrit Kennedy

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.

Kennedy joined NPR in Washington, D.C., in December 2015, after seven years living and working in Egypt. She started her journalism career at the beginning of the Egyptian uprising in 2011 and chronicled the ousting of two presidents, eight rounds of elections, and numerous major outbreaks of violence for NPR and other news outlets. She has also worked as a reporter and television producer in Cairo for The Associated Press, covering Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Sudan.

She grew up in Los Angeles, the Middle East, and places in between, and holds a bachelor's degree in international relations from Stanford University and a master's degree in international human rights law from The American University in Cairo.

Forever 21, the fast-fashion mall standby that filed for bankruptcy last year, will live on. Three companies announced Wednesday that they are jointly acquiring the retailer aimed at young shoppers and that they plan to continue to operate its U.S. and international stores.

The buyers are Authentic Brands Group, which owns major brands such as Barneys New York, Aeropostale and Nine West; and real estate companies Simon Property Group and Brookfield Property Partners.

Updated 6:50 a.m. ET Friday

Federal prosecutors have added new charges against Chinese telecom giant Huawei, its U.S. subsidiaries and its chief financial officer, including accusing it of racketeering and conspiracy to steal trade secrets from U.S.-based companies.

The company already faced a long list of criminal accusations in the case, which was first filed in August 2018, including bank fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy to defraud the United States. Prosecutors filed the expanded indictment in federal court in Brooklyn on Thursday.

Updated at 2:20 p.m. ET

Houston Astros players and coaches offered an apology Thursday in the wake of a sign-stealing scandal that sent shock waves throughout Major League Baseball. But the apology seemed to further inflame critics of the league's and team's response to the sweeping cheating scheme during the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

Bernie Madoff, the mastermind behind a multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme that defrauded hundreds of investors, is seeking compassionate release from prison because of terminal kidney failure.

The motion filed by Madoff's lawyer, Brandon Sample, says the 81-year-old suffers from end-stage renal disease and many other chronic medical conditions. He has a life expectancy of less than 18 months, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The European Union expressed major reservations about President Trump's newly unveiled plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying it doesn't meet "internationally agreed parameters" on issues such as where Israel's borders should be drawn.

The plan, which has been roundly rejected by Palestinians, sides with Israel on major sticking points such as Jerusalem, settlements in the West Bank and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Updated at 5:10 p.m. ET

Two people are in custody after a bizarre and apparently unintentional security breach at President Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort on Friday in which authorities shot at a car, according to Florida officials.

"This is not a terrorist thing. This is somebody that obviously was impaired somehow and is driving very recklessly and endangering not only the public, but the law enforcement officers as well," Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw told reporters. "I'm not so sure she knew where she was going."

Updated at 2:39 p.m. ET

A massive industrial explosion in northwest Houston early Friday killed two people, left a business in ruins, knocked homes off their foundations and sent debris flying for about half a mile.

The predawn blast at a building belonging to Watson Grinding and Manufacturing, which provides industrial services such as thermal spray coatings, could be felt more than 30 miles away, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said at a news conference.

Updated at 1:30 p.m. ET

Federal prosecutors are charging 10 former NFL players accused of defrauding the league's health care program, resulting in payouts totaling $3.4 million for medical equipment they allegedly never purchased.

What if a single dose of ketamine could make a heavy drinker dramatically cut back on booze?

A team at University College London thinks that ketamine may be able to "rewrite" memories that shape a person's relationship with alcohol. Scientists say that participants who were given ketamine as part of an experimental study dramatically reduced their average alcohol intake for months after the initial dose. Their research was published Tuesday in Nature Communications.

Updated at 3:40 p.m. ET

Israel's attorney general has decided to file charges against longtime Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in three corruption cases, according to a statement Thursday from the country's Justice Ministry. Israel has been mired in political uncertainty for months as it awaited the decision.

Netanyahu is Israel's first sitting prime minister to be indicted. He has long denied the allegations, saying they are politically motivated.

A federal judge has ruled that a U.S.-born woman who traveled to Syria and joined ISIS is not an American citizen, even though the State Department had issued her a passport when she was a child and later renewed it.

Hoda Muthana, 25, was a student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham when she traveled to Syria. She is currently being held at a detention camp in northern Syria with her young son.

The International Criminal Court has greenlighted an investigation into possible crimes against humanity perpetrated against Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim minority. Since 2017, hundreds of thousands of them fleeing violence have arrived in neighboring Bangladesh.

A Russian law has taken effect that, in theory, would allow the Russian government to cut off the country's Internet from the rest of the world.

The "sovereign Internet law," as the government calls it, greatly enhances the Kremlin's control over the Web. It was passed earlier this year and allows Russia's government to cut off the Internet completely or from traffic outside Russia "in an emergency," as the BBC reported. But some of the applications could be more subtle, like the ability to block a single post.

Updated at 5:49 p.m. ET

U.S. Vice President Pence says he has brokered a cease-fire deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to suspend the Turkish incursion into northern Syria, targeting Kurdish forces. However, minutes later, the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu stated that he did not consider it a cease-fire.

Updated at 7:46 p.m. ET

U.S. troops in the vicinity of Kobani, Syria, came under artillery fire from Turkish positions Friday, according to a Pentagon spokesman.

"The explosion occurred within a few hundred meters of a location outside the Security Mechanism zone and in an area known by the Turks to have U.S. forces present," Navy Capt. Brook DeWalt said in a statement. "All U.S. troops are accounted for with no injuries. U.S. Forces have not withdrawn from Kobani."

Updated at 2:20 p.m. ET

Turkish forces began crossing the Syrian border on Wednesday, launching an operation in Kurdish-dominated areas of the country's north, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced.

The Turkish offensive jeopardizes Kurdish-led forces who have been a key U.S. ally in the bloody fight against ISIS. Turkey says those same forces are linked to militant groups who stage attacks in a separatist movement against the Turkish government.

More than 200 years ago, scholars glued the remains of an ancient papyrus scroll onto cardboard to preserve it. But the scroll, a history of Plato's Academy, also had writing on the back. Now scholars have deployed imaging technology to read what's been concealed.

This scroll came from a library in Herculaneum, near Mount Vesuvius. And it was caught in the famous eruption of that volcano nearly 2,000 years ago — the same eruption that buried the city of Pompeii.

Updated at 2:14 p.m. ET Tuesday

One day after a dive boat erupted in flames, killing at least 34 people, authorities are suspending their search efforts for survivors. At a news conference Tuesday, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said the bodies of 20 victims — 11 female and 9 male — have been recovered from the wreckage, while divers are still trying to recover the remains of several other victims they have spotted in the waters near California's Channel Islands.

It's a make-or-break week in the U.K. right now, as the country barrels toward a deadline to withdraw from the European Union without yet securing a deal on the terms of the divorce.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is pleading with lawmakers to support him amid a brewing rebellion in Parliament – even from members of his own party — to try to block the U.K. from leaving the bloc without securing a deal.

The Trump administration is proposing to slash restrictions on the oil and gas industry for methane emissions, a greenhouse gas that is a powerful driver of climate change.

Environmental groups are alarmed. "This would be a huge step backward," said Ben Ratner, a senior director at the Environmental Defense Fund. "It would cause greatly increased pollution and a big missed opportunity to take cost effective immediate action to reduce the rate of warming right now."

Updated at 1:15 p.m. ET

French President Emmanuel Macron says world leaders at the G-7 summit have come to an agreement to provide technical and financial help in combating massive fires that have swept through the Amazon rainforest.

A Japanese woman met a person online in March 2016 who said he was a U.S. Army captain based in Syria.

They quickly became close, exchanging messages over email. She thought she was in a romantic relationship with the man, who called himself Terry Garcia.

Over the course of 10 months, the Japanese woman lost more than $200,000, sending money to accounts in Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.

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Updated at 4:32 p.m. ET

The Navy has apprehended 18 Marines and one sailor over their alleged involvement in human smuggling, drug offenses and other crimes, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service said.

Sixteen of the Marines were arrested in highly public fashion at a major West Coast military base Thursday.

On Thursday morning, after some 800 Marines gathered in formation at Camp Pendleton north of San Diego, Marine officials working with NCIS pulled out 16 people and placed them under arrest, as NPR's Tom Bowman reported.

Updated at 6:12 p.m. ET

Boris Johnson, the polarizing and showboating politician who led the campaign for Britain to leave the EU in 2016, is now officially in charge of ushering the country through that fraught and difficult divorce. With Theresa May's exit, Johnson took office as prime minister Wednesday.

Updated at 5 p.m. ET

Ross Perot, the colorful Texas billionaire businessman who ran twice for president, first as an independent and then as a third-party candidate, died early Tuesday at his home in Dallas. He was 89.

Perot, who had battled leukemia, was surrounded by family members when he died, his family said in a statement.

Updated at 5:53 p.m. ET

People in Guadalajara, Mexico, woke up on Sunday to a thick blanket of ice over areas of their city, after a freak hailstorm that damaged houses and left cars partially buried.

This is particularly striking because it's the middle of summer. In the past month, temperatures most days have hit 90 degrees Fahrenheit or over.

A group of voting rights advocates and felons has filed a lawsuit after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis approved a law that could make it more difficult for felons to vote.

Updated at 2 p.m. ET

A fire at an oil refinery in South Philadelphia caused a series of explosions before dawn on Friday, unleashing a giant ball of flames and plumes of smoke into the air. The incident prompted a shelter-in-place order for a nearby neighborhood and sent more than 100 firefighters to the scene.

Several people were treated on the scene for minor injuries, WHYY's Tom MacDonald reported.

National Weather Service meteorologists noticed something puzzling on their radar screens in Southern California on Tuesday evening — a big green blob.

"It was very strange because it was a relatively clear day and we weren't really expecting any rain or thunderstorms," Casey Oswant, a NWS meteorologist in San Diego, tells NPR. "But on our radar, we were seeing something that indicated there was something out there."

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