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.

At least 24 people have died as a result of fires consuming large swaths of the West Coast, with hundreds of thousands under evacuation orders to get to safety.

One hundred large fires are burning in 12 states across the West — but just five of them have been contained, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Mining giant Rio Tinto is parting ways with its chief executive as it tries to quell public anger over the company's destruction of a 46,000-year-old sacred Aboriginal site in Australia.

In May, the company blasted through two rock shelters in Juukan Gorge in Western Australia in order to mine iron ore. Evidence of human habitation there dates back tens of millennia.

The Justice Department's Criminal Division says it has charged 57 people to date over allegedly defrauding a federal program meant to provide relief to small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Criminal Division's acting assistant attorney general, Brian Rabbitt, told reporters that those charged attempted to steal more than $175 million. They actually obtained more than $70 million, he said, and the Justice Department has been to recover or freeze over $30 million.

In Lebanon, a huge fire at Beirut's port has blackened skies and sent waves of panic through the devastated city, which is still reeling from last month's massive explosion in the same area that killed nearly 200 people and injured thousands more.

By early evening local time Thursday, the fire was said to be "under control" by caretaker Public Works Minister Michel Najjar, who is in charge of overseeing the port, according to local media.

George Washington University says associate professor Jessica A. Krug has resigned, after a blog post published under her name last week said she had invented several Black identities.

The blog post stated that Krug is actually a white, Jewish woman from the Midwest, who for years has "assumed identities within a Blackness that I had no right to claim: first North African Blackness, then US rooted Blackness, then Caribbean rooted Bronx Blackness."

For nearly 20 years, a Columbia University gynecologist in New York City sexually abused dozens of female patients, including minors, according to a federal indictment unsealed Wednesday.

Robert Hadden, 62, was arrested that morning in connection with sexual abuse that took place from 1993 to 2012, including acts against a young girl whom Hadden had delivered at birth, court documents say.

Audrey Strauss, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, described him as a "predator in a white coat"

The U.S. is planning to withdraw nearly half of the number of U.S. troops deployed to Iraq, according to a senior U.S. military official.

CENTCOM Commander Gen. Frank McKenzie, who is responsible for U.S. forces in the Middle East, says that the U.S. will reduce its troop levels in Iraq from 5,200 to 3,000 and that the cuts will be made this month.

He said the decision reflects confidence in Iraqi security forces.

Updated Sept. 9 at 4 p.m. ET

Congress is launching an investigation into a series of deaths at Fort Hood in Texas.

Updated at 2:06 p.m. ET

House Democrats say they are investigating Postmaster General Louis DeJoy over allegations reported by The Washington Post that he asked employees to donate to certain political candidates and then reimbursed them through bonuses.

Japan's Olympic minister, Seiko Hashimoto, says the Tokyo Olympics should go forward in 2021 "at any cost." Multiple Japanese and International Olympic Committee officials have stressed in the past week that the games will proceed regardless of the state of the global pandemic.

Updated at 5:15 p.m. ET

As airlines try to coax back customers wary of flying during the COVID-19 pandemic, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines are bowing to consumer demand and getting rid of many change fees.

United announced the change on Sunday, and Delta and American followed suit on Monday afternoon.

Updated at 1 p.m. ET

College basketball has lost a legend. John Thompson Jr., who turned Georgetown University's men's basketball team into a juggernaut and became the first Black coach to win a national men's college basketball title, has died. He was 78.

Thompson's family confirmed his death in a statement released by Georgetown University but did not provide additional details.

Updated at 3:20 p.m. ET

A former nursing assistant at a medical center for veterans in West Virginia has pleaded guilty to seven counts of second-degree murder and one count of assault with the intent to commit murder.

Reta Mays, 46, appeared in federal court Tuesday and admitted to killing the patients at the Louis A. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Clarksburg by injecting them with insulin. She also admitted injecting an eighth patient in order to kill him.

As Major League Baseball prepares to start its season, a massive set of coronavirus test results shows that 28 out of the league's 30 teams have had a player or staff member test positive.

So far, 71 players and 12 staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus, MLB announced Friday.

When teams convened for training camps at the beginning of the month, the league carried out intake screenings. Some 58 players and eight staff members tested positive. That's a rate of 1.8%, with more than 3,700 samples tested.

Updated at 2:15 p.m. ET

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ordered the Hagia Sophia museum, one of Istanbul's most famous landmarks, to be converted into a mosque.

He made the announcement on Friday, hours after a top court cleared the way for him to make the change.

The Hagia Sophia, a major draw for tourists, has a long and complicated history. The architectural marvel was built as a church by the Byzantines in the 6th century and then converted to a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom outlined Tuesday how the state will eventually decide to start lifting restrictions imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The governor did not indicate when these decisions might happen, only saying that "when it comes to re-opening, SCIENCE – not politics – must be California's guide."

The World Bank has projected that a recession is coming to sub-Saharan African for the first time in 25 years — due to an economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the number of coronavirus cases in his state is doubling every four days now — a marked decrease from early on in the outbreak, when it was doubling every 2 1/2 days.

"It's still doubling, and that's still bad news, because that still means you're moving up towards an apex," Cuomo said at a press conference on Friday. "But there is good news in that the rate of the increase is slowing."

Fred "Curly" Neal, the Harlem Globetrotters star who played more than 6,000 games and 22 seasons, has died at 77. The team remembers him as "one of the truly magical dribblers and shooters in basketball history."

The Globetrotters said in a statement that Neal, who played with the team from 1963 to 1985, died at home in Houston on Thursday morning.

A political twist in Israel may help the embattled prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, stay in power.

After three inconclusive elections, the right wing Netanyahu and his centrist rival Benny Gantz are reportedly close to a deal to rotate as prime minister, with Netanyahu taking the first turn.

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