Merrit Kennedy | KUER 90.1

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.

The Horn of Africa, one of the world's most impoverished regions, is being ransacked by billions of tiny invaders.

Farmers look on in horror as desert locusts moving in vast cloud-like swarms darken the sky. The insects blast through fields of crops at an astonishing pace, decimating livelihoods in the process.

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.

About 50,000 years ago, ancient humans in what is now West Africa apparently procreated with another group of ancient humans that scientists didn't know existed.

There aren't any bones or ancient DNA to prove it, but researchers say the evidence is in the genes of modern West Africans. They analyzed genetic material from hundreds of people from Nigeria and Sierra Leone and found signals of what they call "ghost" DNA from an unknown ancestor.

Holden Matthews, the white son of a sheriff's deputy, has pleaded guilty to federal charges over setting three historically black churches on fire in Louisiana during a 10-day period last March and April. The religious institutions were completely destroyed.

"His atrocious actions inflicted severe pain and grief upon these congregations," Bryan Vorndran, the special agent in charge of the FBI's New Orleans Field office, said in a statement.

Angela Merkel's handpicked successor says that she will not seek Germany's chancellorship, casting into uncertainty the future of the Christian Democratic Union, Germany's most dominant political party.

"With the aim of making the CDU stronger, I have today, after extended reflection, informed the party board and leadership team: I will not seek to become a candidate for the office of German Chancellor," party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, 57, announced Monday, according to Deutsche-Welle.

Until now, all the pictures of the sun have been straight-on head shots. Soon, scientists will be getting a profile.

NASA and the European Space Agency are set to launch a joint mission on Sunday to provide the first-ever look at the sun's poles. Previous images have all been taken from approximately the same angle, roughly in line with the star's equator.

Scientists are hesitant to guess what the elusive poles of the star might look like. "I hate to speculate," says Holly Gilbert, the NASA project scientist for the mission.

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.

Updated at 6:15 p.m. ET

An airplane careened off a runway at Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen airport on Wednesday evening, dropping more than 100 feet to the ground where it broke into pieces. Turkish authorities say that at least three people were killed and 179 others were injured.

The plane, from a Turkish low-cost carrier called Pegasus Airlines, was coming from the western city of Izmir and was attempting to land in Istanbul during bad weather.

Canada's Federal Court of Appeal has cleared the way for a major expansion to the Trans Mountain Pipeline by ruling against four different challenges from First Nations groups concerned about the environmental impacts of the project.

The Trans Mountain expansion, which would add more than 600 miles to the pipeline and increase its capacity from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000, has been mired in controversy and legal battles since Canada's cabinet first approved the project in 2016.

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.

The trial of a former Central Intelligence Agency software engineer who allegedly leaked thousands of pages of documents to WikiLeaks was set to begin Monday in federal court in New York. The leak has been described as one of the largest in the CIA's history.

Joshua Schulte has pleaded not guilty to 11 criminal counts, including illegal transmission of unlawfully possessed national defense information and theft of government property.

Updated at 4:52 p.m. ET

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh told his listeners on Monday that he has been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.

He said the diagnosis was confirmed by two medical institutions on Jan. 20, after he became concerned earlier that month that something was wrong.

"I wish I didn't have to tell you this, and I thought about not telling anybody," Limbaugh said on his program. "I thought about trying to do this without anybody knowing, because I don't like making things about me."

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."

International track and field's governing body is imposing new restrictions on which shoes can be worn in elite competition, following years of controversy over whether Nike's Vaporfly line of shoes gives athletes an unfair advantage.

Elite marathon runners have seen major success wearing Vaporfly models. Kenyan marathoner Eliud Kipchoge, for example, was wearing a high-tech Nike prototype when he clocked a sub-two-hour marathon in Vienna last year.

The House has approved two measures seeking to limit the president's ability to take military action without congressional approval.

The first piece of legislation, known as the No War Against Iran Act, would block funding for military force in or against Iran unless Congress has signed off. The measure, introduced by Rep. Ro Khanna of California, passed by a vote of 228-175.

Updated at 9:40 p.m. ET

The World Health Organization announced Thursday that the outbreak of a deadly and fast-spreading strain of coronavirus constitutes a global health emergency.

"Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed the emergence of a previously unknown pathogen, which has escalated into an unprecedented outbreak and which has been met by an unprecedented response," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva.

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.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is considering tightening the rules for taking service animals on planes after increased customer complaints and lobbying from the airlines who think current regulations are too lenient.

Updated at 6:17 p.m. ET

The District of Columbia is suing President Trump's inaugural committee, the Trump Organization and the Trump International Hotel in Washington, accusing them of "grossly overpaying" for event space at the hotel to enrich the president's family during the 2017 inauguration.

Updated at 3 p.m. ET

The first case of an infection with the new coronavirus has been discovered in the United States.

A man from Washington state returned home after a trip to Wuhan, China, on Jan. 15, sought medical attention on Jan. 19 and now is in isolation at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Wash.

Police have arrested three men in northern Georgia who are suspected of belonging to a violent white supremacist group called The Base, saying that they were plotting to commit murder and that they belonged to a criminal street gang.

They're the second trio of suspected Base members to be arrested this week; the FBI announced Thursday that it arrested three other men in Maryland.

"I've only been bald in the privacy of my home and in the company of close friends," Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts says at the beginning of an emotional video in which she revealed she is living with alopecia.

"I do believe going public will help," she says in the video published by The Root. "I'm ready now, because I want to be freed from the secret and the shame that secret carries with it. Because I'm not here just to occupy space — I'm here to create it."

For decades, scientists have been trying to create machines that mimic the way birds fly. A team from Stanford University has gotten one big step closer.

The team created the PigeonBot — a winged robot that it says approximates the graceful complexities of bird flight better than any other robot to date.

The New York Mets have announced that they are parting ways with their brand-new manager, Carlos Beltrán, amid a sign-stealing scandal that has rocked Major League Baseball.

"This was not an easy decision," Mets COO Jeff Wilpon and general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said in a statement. "Considering the circumstances, it became clear to all parties that it was not in anyone's best interest for Carlos to move forward as Manager of the New York Mets."

Pope Francis has announced that he is appointing a woman for the first time to a managerial role in the Secretariat of State, one of the most important departments in the Vatican.

Francesca Di Giovanni, who has worked at the Secretariat for 27 years, will be elevated to the position of undersecretary for the section for relations with states. She'll manage the Vatican's relationships with multilateral organizations such as the United Nations.

Updated at 4:49 p.m. ET

The owner of the Houston Astros announced Monday that he is dismissing the baseball team's general manager, Jeff Luhnow, and manager, A.J. Hinch, over an elaborate sign-stealing scheme during the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

Shortly before owner Jim Crane's announcement, Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert Manfred had said the league was suspending Luhnow and Hinch for the 2020 season without pay.

Iranian demonstrators, angry that their government accidentally shot down a passenger plane, took to the streets for a third day on Monday. Videos from these protests appear to show security forces using live ammunition against demonstrators, something that Iran's government has denied.

All 176 people on the Ukraine-bound flight last Wednesday were killed. Iran initially said the Boeing 737-800 crashed because of a mechanical failure but and later said it downed the plane unintentionally. The majority of those who died were Iranians.

Hungary has announced that it will offer free in-vitro fertilization treatments, the latest major initiative to try to boost the country's population numbers, which have been declining for decades.

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