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.

The U.S. has lost more than 2,200 lives and spent more than $840 billion on Afghanistan, its longest-ever war.

But the U.S. public is steadily provided with less and less key information about how the war is going. Now, another crucial measure of the war's progress is no longer public.

Nearly five years after the leader of ISIS released his first video, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has purportedly released his second.

It's not confirmed that the man in the video is indeed Baghdadi. The man acknowledges ISIS' recent major defeat in the Syrian city of Baghouz and vows to continue fighting.

The man says that "in truth, the battle between Islam and its people against the crusaders and their people is a long battle."

Indonesia has announced plans to build a new capital city as its current capital, Jakarta, struggles with pollution, traffic gridlock — and the fact that the city is sinking.

After a Cabinet meeting on Monday, planning minister Bambang Brodjonegoro said President Joko Widodo has decided to move the capital out of Indonesia's main island, Java.

It's not clear exactly when this will happen, or where the new capital would be located. The idea has been out there for decades, though previous leaders have been unable to accomplish the ambitious plan.

Updated at 10:25 a.m. ET

According to Amnesty International, the U.S.-led coalition's offensive against ISIS in Raqqa killed about 1,400 more civilians than the U.S. military has acknowledged.

It happens all the time during basketball games. Two players are going for the ball. They touch it at the same time but neither controls it, and it flies out of bounds.

At that point, tempers rise — both are certain that the other player was the last to touch it, which should earn their own team a chance to control the ball.

Are the players just pretending to be so sure it's out on their opponent? Or could there actually be a difference in how they experience the event that has them pointing a finger at the other player?

Egyptian voters have approved sweeping constitutional amendments that allow President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to remain in office until 2030 and further entrench the power of the military.

Voters approved the amendments by 88.83%, according to the National Election Authority, which said that 44.33% of eligible voters took part in the poll.

A new star has risen on a classic game show.

James Holzhauer, a Las Vegas professional sports bettor, is on a Jeopardy! hot streak. He has breezily won the last 12 games in a row.

But most notably, the 34-year-old is drawing attention for his unique strategy and big bets. Over the 12 wins as of Friday, he now holds the top five slots for single-day winning records on the show in regular play, racking up a total of $851,926.

Three of the world's most elite climbers are missing and presumed dead by park officials after an avalanche in Alberta, Canada.

Jess Roskelley, a U.S. citizen, and David Lama and Hansjörg Auer, who are both Austrian, had been attempting to climb the east face of Howse Peak in Banff National Park. They were reported overdue on Wednesday, according to the park.

"Based on an assessment of the scene, all three members of the party are presumed to be deceased," the park said.

A London water provider is asking people to please, please, stop pouring concrete down their drains.

The consequences are heavy: Thames Water says a "concreteberg" the weight of a blue whale is blocking three Victorian-era sewers. "It goes without saying that pouring concrete down the drains into our sewers isn't going to do any good," Thames Water said.

The mass is longer than a football field and weighs a whopping 115 tons (or almost 105 metric tons).

Early election results from Indonesia show the incumbent president easily securing victory against his old-guard challenger in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country.

President Joko Widodo, a former furniture businessman and political moderate, was up against former military general Prabowo Subianto. Subianto was the son-in-law of Indonesia's longtime dictator Suharto, who was ousted in 1998.

The results are not yet official – they're "quick counts" from multiple polling organizations, which show that Widodo won about 54 percent of the vote.

The American Museum of Natural History in New York has announced that it will no longer host an event honoring Brazil's far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, who is outspoken about his desire to roll back environmental protections.

Workers on an oil rig about 135 miles offshore from southern Thailand noticed something stunning in the water: a dog.

The animal swam toward the rig's platform on Friday and clung to it as team members tried to figure out how to save him, Vitisak Payalaw, an offshore planner for Chevron Thailand Exploration & Production, told NPR.

Video that Payalaw posted on Facebook shows the shivering animal partially submerged in water, staring up at the workers.

Tiger Woods' historic comeback victory Sunday at the The Masters Tournament shows the enduring star — and earning — power of a player once dropped by many sponsors because of his problems on and off the golf course.

"It's crazy to think a 43-year-old who has experienced every high and every low and has just won his 15th major .... is chasing the same dream as a 3-year-old," a new Nike ad says.

A panel of judges at the International Criminal Court has rejected a request to proceed with investigating possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan, including those allegedly involving U.S. armed forces and the CIA.

This is in response to a request from ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in 2017, a prospect that U.S. officials have strongly criticized.

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.

Updated at 10:15 p.m. ET

Federal officials have charged dozens of well-heeled parents, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, in what the Justice Department says was a multimillion-dollar scheme to cheat college admissions standards. The parents allegedly paid a consultant who then fabricated academic and athletic credentials and arranged bribes to help get their children into prestigious universities.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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