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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.

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.

As protesters hunker down at university campuses in Hong Kong, police are accusing them of firing arrows and tossing Molotov cocktails off bridges. The clashes between protesters and police are a sign that violence continues to escalate in Hong Kong, even after more than five months of intense protests over concerns that China is seeking to limit freedoms there.

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.

Updated at 7:30 p.m. ET

More than 100 fires are raging in eastern Australia, and thousands of firefighters are battling the blazes amid brutally dry conditions that will likely get worse in the coming months. Police say the remains of one man were found in a burned forest in northeast New South Wales on Wednesday night.

Republican lawmakers are asking that the impeachment inquiry into President Trump hear publicly from Hunter Biden and the anonymous whistleblower whose allegations prompted the probe.

In a letter to Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who is leading the inquiry, Republican Rep. Devin Nunes said that calling these witnesses would help ensure the investigation "treats the President with fairness."

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say there has been a breakthrough in the investigation into the outbreak of vaping-related lung injuries that has led to the deaths of 39 people and sickened more than 2,000 others.

Investigators announced Friday that they have detected a chemical compound called vitamin E acetate in all the samples of lung fluid collected from 29 patients who were hospitalized after vaping, suggesting a possible culprit for the spate of lung injuries that has swept across the U.S.

Updated at 7:36 p.m. ET

A New York judge has ruled that President Trump must pay $2 million in damages to settle claims that the Trump Foundation misused funds. The money will go to a group of charities, and the foundation is in the process of dissolving.

For more than a year, a man in Michigan stole sensitive technical data from his employer, according to federal prosecutors. He would then allegedly send it to his brother in Iran, who has connections to the Iranian military.

Amin Hasanzadeh, an Iranian national and a U.S. permanent resident, made his initial appearance in federal court on Wednesday on charges of fraud and interstate transportation of stolen property. According to the Federal Defender Office in Detroit, Hasanzadeh has not yet been assigned a lawyer.

Gunmen opened fire on security forces and civilian volunteers at a checkpoint in Thailand's restive south on Tuesday night, killing at least 15 people in what is believed to be the deadliest single attack in the region in years.

More than 7,000 people have been killed since a separatist rebellion started in southern Thailand in 2004, according to Deep South Watch, which monitors violence there. The region is predominantly Muslim and was annexed from Malaysia by Buddhist-majority Thailand more than 100 years ago.

Updated at 8:45 p.m. ET

Iran has announced that it will begin enriching uranium using centrifuges at a controversial and heavily fortified nuclear facility. It's the latest in a series of breaches by Iran following President Trump's decision to abandon an international nuclear deal and impose economic sanctions.

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.

Late at night, heavily armed CIA-backed Afghan paramilitary forces will land in a village to carry out a raid in Taliban-controlled areas looking for militants. They'll bomb their way through the walls of a compound, then separate whoever they find into groups of women and young children, and men and boys. They'll question the men, and detain some of them. Others will be shot execution-style.

John Sullivan, a senior State Department official and President Trump's nominee to be the next ambassador to Russia, faced questions from lawmakers Wednesday about his connection to events at the center of the impeachment inquiry.

Sullivan, currently the deputy secretary of state, has bipartisan support for his appointment. But the open confirmation hearing provided a window into the discussions at the State Department over dealings with Ukraine — at a time when the impeachment testimony hearings are happening behind closed doors.

Teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg has turned down a major environmental prize.

"It is a huge honor," Thunberg said of the Nordic Council Environment Prize. "But the climate movement does not need any more awards."

"What we need is for our politicians and the people in power to start listening to the current, best available science," she added.

The award Thunberg rejected came with prize money of 350,000 Danish kroner — about $52,000.

A Nepalese climber has summited the world's 14 highest peaks in six months and six days, smashing the previous record by more than seven years.

Nirmal "Nims" Purja, who served in the British military before attempting the lofty feat, reached the top of Mount Shishapangma in China on Tuesday morning. The Himalayan summit is some 8,027 meters (26,335 feet) above sea level. It's also the smallest of the 14 mountains on Earth that soar above 8,000 meters — a realm mountaineers refer to as the "death zone."

Updated at 4:32 p.m. ET

A U.S.-brokered deal with Turkey to pause its campaign against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria appears to be largely holding on its first day, though there have been reports of continue Turkish shelling in a key border town, Ras al-Ain.

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.

More than 330 people have been arrested around the world in a major takedown of a massive child pornography website, which U.S. officials say is among the first to be found using cryptocurrency to carry out video sales.

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James has criticized a tweet sent by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey in support of Hong Kong protesters, saying of Morey, "I believe he wasn't educated on the situation at hand."

James has just returned from the NBA's tense trip to China, where teams played exhibition games but many player appearances were canceled owing to the controversy over Morey's statement, which was deleted shortly after it was posted.

Faced with rare protests, Egypt's government has launched a crackdown that human rights groups say is one of the largest the country has seen during Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's five years as president.

Authorities have arrested at least 3,000 people since the protests began on Sept. 20, according to several Egyptian human rights groups. This is considered a major escalation, even for a regime that has long targeted dissenting voices.

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."

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 7:05 p.m. ET

Seven people were killed when a World War II-era plane crashed and caught fire Wednesday morning as it was attempting to land at Bradley International Airport near Hartford, Conn., according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Thirteen people were onboard the plane, Connecticut Commissioner of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection James Rovella said at a news conference. Some of the survivors were in critical condition.

Rovella did not release the names of the victims.

Thousands of Dutch farmers rolled their tractors over highways to The Hague to protest a possible crackdown on nitrogen emissions from livestock and farming operations. The angry farmers snarled traffic for hundreds of miles in what has been called the Netherlands' busiest morning rush hour.

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.

A major Australian government report is warning that the time to take action to protect the Great Barrier Reef's long-term future is now.

The Australian federal government says the overall outlook of the reef to "very poor," a downgrade from the "poor" grade assigned to the reef in 2014, the last time Australia released this type of report.

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 3:40 p.m. ET

North Carolina is suing electronic cigarette companies that it accuses of selling products to children, amid a major increase in U.S. teens getting hooked on vaping.

The state's attorney general, Josh Stein, announced Tuesday that his office will be filing lawsuits in state court against eight companies that sell vaping products. His office is accusing these companies of "aggressively targeting children and do not require appropriate age verification when selling these dangerous and addictive products."

A pilot who is credited with saving dozens of lives has died. United Flight 232 went into total hydraulic failure while Al Haynes was at the controls in 1989. With the help of three other pilots, he maneuvered the DC-10 to a miraculous crash landing in Sioux City, Iowa, and 184 of the 296 people on board survived.

Haynes is widely seen as a hero among aviation experts, akin to Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and his "miracle on the Hudson." Haynes' son Dan confirmed to NPR that his father had died.

At a cancer treatment center in Iran's capital of Tehran, a doctor's fight to treat her cancer patients has become harder. As U.S. sanctions sink in, the flow of medicine and medical supplies in Iran appears to have slowed — and the reasons are difficult to pin down.

Dr. Mastaneh Sanei, an oncologist at the Roshana Cancer Center, says she's treating patients without the benefits of consistently functioning equipment and a reliable supply of drugs.

With the right treatment, she says, "you may not cure these patients, but they have the chance to prolong survival."

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