Merrit Kennedy

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's Newsdesk. 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, DC, 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.

Updated at 6:06 p.m. ET

Celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti, who is already accused of federal financial crimes, has been indicted on 36 counts of embezzlement and fraud by a California federal grand jury, U.S. prosecutors announced Thursday.

If Avenatti is found guilty of all charges in the new indictment, he could be sentenced to a maximum of 335 years in prison.

Updated at 2:50 p.m. ET

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to be on his way to a fourth consecutive term, and his main challenger has conceded defeat.

The election was neck and neck between his right-wing party and that of his top contender, centrist political newcomer Benny Gantz. But with at least 97 percent of the votes counted, Netanyahu appears to be in the best position to form a government because of the strength of other right-wing, nationalist and religious parties.

Updated at 9:00 p.m. ET

The final results of the Israeli parliamentary election are too close to call, but two television stations are forecasting a slim victory by incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party.

Israel's channels 12 and 13 project that Likud will capture 35 seats in the 120-seat parliament, changing their forecasts from earlier in the vote-counting, according to the Associated Press.

Ukraine's presidential election – which was already high-drama — has taken an unusual turn. The two remaining candidates took highly public alcohol and drug tests on Friday, as part of an escalating series of challenges delivered on social media.

The runoff election on April 21 pits incumbent President Petro Poroshenko against Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a comedian who plays a president on TV. Zelenskiy came out of the first round of election with 30 percent of the vote – nearly double the number of votes cast for Poroshenko.

Updated at 4:15 p.m. ET

Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin made their initial appearances in federal court in Boston on Wednesday for their alleged roles in a massive college admissions fraud that has sent shock waves through the U.S. higher education system.

One of the most shocking aspects of the massacre that unfolded Friday at two mosques in Christchurch is that it happened in New Zealand — a country where low crime rates are a part of its identity and mass shootings are extremely rare.

"This is New Zealand. This can't happen here," as Muslim Association of Marlborough Chairman Zayd Blissett told Stuff.

Venezuela has been in the grip of a crippling blackout for four days — and the humanitarian situation there is growing increasingly dire.

Signs of the crisis are everywhere you look in the Venezuelan capital. "Drive around Caracas, and you see long lines of cars waiting for hours at the few gas stations still operational," NPR's Philip Reeves reported from the city.

"Motorists park on highways, cell phones aloft, searching for a signal. The rich have taken refuge in luxury hotels. The poor stand in lines in the street," Reeves added.

U.S. Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said in a letter to President Trump that she plans to resign from her post effective in late May.

Wilson has been named as the sole finalist to be the next president of the University of Texas at El Paso, a position that the system's regents will vote on after a state-required waiting period of 21 days. She said she will resign after getting the job.

Updated at 4:03 p.m. ET

A New Jersey man is basking in the good fortune of a $273 million lottery jackpot win that wouldn't have happened without the kindness of a stranger.

Mike Weirsky, who is unemployed and recently divorced, purchased lottery tickets at a QuickChek supermarket near New Jersey's border with Pennsylvania.

Since the start of the racing season in late December, a shocking 21 horses have died at the famed Santa Anita Park racetrack in southern California.

It's horrified the racing world and experts say there's no clear answer as to why this is happening.

Santa Anita's owners, The Stronach Group, announced on Tuesday that it was halting racing and training at the park in order to test the main track – a picturesque spot tucked next to the San Gabriel Mountains where the champion racehorse Seabiscuit won big.

U.S. regulators say several makeup products from Claire's stores tested positive for asbestos, a mineral that has been linked to deadly cancers.

The Food and Drug Administration tested makeup from Claire's and the retailer Justice, both of which market their products to young girls and teens. In a statement Tuesday, the agency reported that it found that three product samples from Claire's and one from Justice contained the substance, and it released a safety alert about the products.

For more than a month, oil has been pouring out of a large ship that ran aground in the Solomon Islands next to a fragile UNESCO World Heritage site, and there's growing outrage that the companies responsible have not taken action to stop the environmental destruction.

The CEO of British fashion retailer Ted Baker has resigned after allegations of misconduct, including complaints of "forced hugging."

The company said Monday that Ray Kelvin, who founded the firm more than 30 years ago, had resigned "with immediate effect." He will not be entitled to any salary or benefits payments in connection with the resignation, the company added.

Filipino customs officials found four suitcases left in the arrivals area of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport near Manila on Sunday.

And when they opened them, they found a startling surprise – more than 1,500 exotic turtles and tortoises. Some of the animals were wrapped in duct tape, some were mixed into normal-looking luggage items such as clothing, shoes and cookies.

Stumbling upon a 7-foot-long sunfish while walking on a beach is already pretty surprising.

But what researchers initially thought was a common type of sunfish turned out to be much rarer — a newly discovered species thought to make its home almost entirely in the oceans of the Southern Hemisphere. This was in Santa Barbara, Calif. — much farther north than anyone expected to find it.

After months of anticipation, Israel's attorney general has told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he is preparing to indict him on corruption charges.

It's a major blow to the long-serving premier and Trump ally, though not a final decision on an indictment. Netanyahu will still have a chance to hold off any indictment during a court hearing. And in the meantime, he remains in office and seeks reelection in April.

A sweet story that went viral has taken a dark turn.

Last week, a South Carolina mother posted on Facebook that a man bought some 120 boxes of Girl Scout cookies so that the children selling them could get out of the cold.

At least 20 people have been killed and 40 wounded after a train locomotive crashed into a barrier at the main train station in Egypt's capital Cairo on Wednesday morning, Egyptian health authorities say.

The locomotive's fuel tank then exploded, according to Egypt's Railway Authority, sending flames through the Ramses train station platform crowded with people.

Emma Thompson has pulled out of the animated film Luck over concerns that the studio has hired John Lasseter. Lasseter recently departed Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, where he was chief creative officer, after allegations of sexual harassment.

Thompson's letter to the management of Skydance Media, first published in the Los Angeles Times, blasts the company for hiring Lasseter.

Vandals have broken into a historic church in Dublin and stolen the head of an 800-year-old mummy nicknamed "The Crusader."

The grim discovery was made by a guide at St. Michan's Church, as he was getting ready to open the site to the public, according to a statement from the Church of Ireland.

In addition to the Crusader, several other corpses were damaged, including that of a nun dating back 400 years.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the U.K. forcibly removed the entire population of the Chagos Archipelago, an area that had been part of Mauritius. And on the largest island, Diego Garcia, it allowed the U.S. to build a large and strategically important military base.

The publisher of a small local newspaper in Alabama penned an editorial calling for the Ku Klux Klan to "ride again." After massive outcry, he's stepped down, and a black woman has taken the job.

The new publisher and editor of The Democrat-Reporter, Elecia R. Dexter, took the reins on Thursday, after Goodloe Sutton doubled down on his incendiary comments.

Andrew and Elad Dvash-Banks have twin sons, born four minutes apart. The U.S. State Department has maintained that one is a U.S. citizen and one is not.

The same-sex couple has been fighting the U.S. government in federal court for citizenship rights for their young child. On Thursday, a judge ruled that the child, Ethan, is indeed a U.S. citizen because his parents were married at the time of his birth, and therefore the State Department misapplied the law.

Updated at 4:45 p.m. ET

A Florida police chief has announced that Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, will face charges of soliciting prostitution after he was caught on surveillance video allegedly in the midst of a sexual act.

Jupiter Police Chief Daniel Kerr announced the charges on Friday as part of a sting on a local spa suspected of human trafficking and potential money laundering.

Updated at 11 p.m. ET

An Israeli spacecraft blasted off this evening, aiming to land on the moon. And if the mission is successful, it would make Israel the fourth country to land a spacecraft on the lunar surface – after the U.S., the former Soviet Union and China.

After the deadliest wildfire in California's history last year, one family that fled has received a little joy. The family was reunited with its dog, Kingston, who disappeared shortly after the Camp Fire started.

The Ballejos family told Sacramento's KXTV that Kingston, an Akita, jumped out of the truck as they were evacuating the wildfire area in Paradise, Calif.

"When I found out, [it] just about brought me to tears," Gabriel Ballejos, Kingston's owner, told the station. "I'm so proud of him. I can't believe it. He's a true survivor."

A convicted Chinese trafficker known as the "ivory queen" has been sentenced to 15 years in jail by a Tanzanian court.

Yang Fenglan, who has lived in Tanzania on and off for decades and operated a Chinese restaurant, was found guilty of working with two Tanzanian men to smuggle more than 800 pieces of ivory between 2000 and 2004, as Reuters reported.

Updated at 5:32 p.m. ET

President Trump pushed forward Tuesday with his plan to launch a space force as a new branch of the military. But it would at first be under the umbrella of the Air Force, and it requires approval of Congress — which is far from certain.

This represents at least a temporary shift. Trump had stated that he wanted a space force that is "separate but equal" from the Air Force.

Updated at 4:28 p.m. ET

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the NFL have reached an agreement to settle his allegations that league teams colluded to deny him a contract after his controversial protests in which he took a knee during the national anthem.

The league has also reached a deal with Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid over similar collusion allegations.

Updated at 9:55 p.m. ET

Nigerians who were due to cast ballots Saturday to choose a new leader from a field of some 70 candidates will now have to wait until Feb. 23. Election officials blame the delay simply on "challenges."

The Associated Press cites reports that "voting materials had not been delivered to all parts of the country."

Two men have emerged as the clear front-runners. Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is trying to hold on to his position, and opposition leader Atiku Abubakar is his fiercest challenger.

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