Merrit Kennedy | WGLT

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 Montana Supreme Court has reversed a $35 million judgment against Jehovah's Witnesses for failing to report child sexual abuse.

A lower court had found that the church illegally failed to report a child sexual abuser to authorities, which allowed him to continue sexually abusing another child.

A French court is sending former French president Nicolas Sarkozy to trial over allegations that he attempted to unlawfully obtain confidential information from a court official.

The trial is set to run from Oct. 5 to Oct. 22, according to Agence France-Presse.

Sarkozy, who led France from 2007 to 2012, stands accused in multiple separate legal actions. He has denied wrongdoing.

Ikea has agreed to pay $46 million to a California family whose 2-year-old son, Jozef Dudek, was killed when an unsecured Ikea dresser fell on top of him. The family's lawyers say the dresser model was "inherently unstable."

The U.S. killing of a top Iranian military leader, Qassem Soleimani, in an airstrike in Baghdad this week has raised thorny legal questions. Experts disagree over whether the U.S. had the legal authority to launch the deadly strike.

President Trump stated that Soleimani was plotting "imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and American personnel, but we caught him in the act and terminated him."

Updated at 8:37 p.m. ET

In the small coastal Australian town of Mallacoota, an out-of-control wildfire on New Year's Eve morning forced some 4,000 people to flee to the water during one of the country's most destructive fire seasons in recent memory.

Alex White, a reporter for the Herald Sun, told NPR that Mallacoota is popular among tourists and fishermen. The extreme conditions threatened all the roads out of town.

Updated at 8:45 p.m. ET

The Pentagon is deploying another 750 soldiers following an attack by Iranian-backed militia members and their supporters on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday. Marines in the compound fired tear gas at the crowds who threw rocks and set fires.

Updated Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. ET

An angry mob protesting American airstrikes in Iraq and Syria tried to storm the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday, smashing through the main entrance and setting fire to a reception area as Marines guarding the compound fired tear gas to hold them back.

Updated at 1:30 p.m. ET

A Chinese scientist who shocked the medical community last year when he said he had illegally created the world's first gene-edited babies has been sentenced to three years in prison by a court in southern China.

For decades, major tobacco companies have fought against raising the age limit to buy their products from 18 to 21. But recently, some cigarette and e-cigarette giants have started lobbying for the minimum age to rise.

"Raising the purchase age to 21 reduces underage access," a radio ad from e-cigarette giant Juul declared. "That's why Juul Labs supports making 21+ the law nationwide."

Australia experienced its hottest day ever recorded on Tuesday, according to preliminary results from its national Bureau of Meteorology.

The average maximum temperature across the country was 105.6 degrees Fahrenheit, topping the previous record of 104.5 degrees, set in January 2013.

There's good reason to think that this record could be smashed again within the week — Diana Eadie, a meteorologist at Australia's BOM, said that the heat on Wednesday "will only intensify."

The dark little blob would be easy to overlook at an archaeological site.

Hannes Schroeder, a paleogeneticist at the University of Copenhagen, says a student brought it to him from a Stone Age site in Denmark and had a question: "Can we get DNA out of this?"

Schroeder remembers replying: "We don't know, haven't really tried, so let's give it a go."

Updated at 4:54 a.m. ET Sunday

New Zealand police said they were unable to find two remaining bodies in a search Sunday for victims killed in a volcanic eruption on White Island, while the death toll rose to 16 after another person died in a hospital.

Police said eight specialists searched an area of the island Sunday where they believed a body would be located.

Algerians have elected a new president following the ouster of longtime ruler Abdelaziz Bouteflika. In the controversial election that saw huge protests and a boycott, five candidates with links to the Bouteflika regime squared off and former Prime Minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune came out ahead.

Updated at 1:30 p.m. ET

Federal prosecutors are charging 10 former NFL players accused of defrauding the league's health care program, resulting in payouts totaling $3.4 million for medical equipment they allegedly never purchased.

Scientists say they have found the oldest known figurative painting, in a cave in Indonesia. And the stunning scene of a hunting party, painted some 44,000 years ago, is helping to rewrite the history of the origins of art.

Until recently, the long-held story was that humans started painting in caves in Europe. For example, art from the Chauvet Cave in France is dated as old as 37,000 years.

When the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, sailor Lauren Bruner was the second-to-last person to get off the USS Arizona alive.

Bruner and five others were stranded on the doomed ship when a sailor on a repair ship spotted them and threw them a line. Even though Bruner was badly burned and had been shot twice, the 21-year-old managed to climb to safety.

Samoan authorities have arrested a prominent anti-vaccination activist amid an outbreak that has killed at least 63 people, most of them children.

Edwin Tamasese has been charged with "incitement against a government order," according to the BBC.

Updated at 11:12 p.m. ET

As a 23-year-old woman in India was heading to testify against a man who allegedly raped her, a group of men that she says included her rapist attacked her and set her on fire. It's yet another horrifying incident in a country grappling with high levels of sexual violence against women.

One of her doctors at a hospital in Uttar Pradesh says she is in very serious condition.

An electric eel in Chattanooga, Tenn., is sparking a little holiday cheer.

Every time Miguel Wattson the electric eel releases a jolt of electricity, a festively-decorated Christmas tree next to his tank at the Tennessee Aquarium flickers and glows.

"There is a sensor directly in his exhibit that picks up when he produces electricity," Aquarist Kimberly Hurt, who cares for the electric eel, tells NPR.

Chinese officials have expressed outrage after the House passed a bill late Tuesday condemning Beijing's crackdown on China's Muslim Uighur minority.

The bipartisan bill, which passed the House in a 407-1 vote, condemns "gross human rights violations" against the Uighurs and calls for "an end to arbitrary detention, torture, and harassment of these communities inside and outside China."

In what could be a reference to a new missile test, North Korea is threatening to give the U.S. a "Christmas gift" unless Washington abides by an end-of-year deadline set by Pyongyang for concessions in exchange for a possible deal to curb its nuclear weapons program.

North Korea accused the U.S. of stalling on diplomatic efforts between the two countries because of the upcoming U.S. presidential election.

The weekend after Thanksgiving is already a nightmare for travel, no matter the weather. But storm systems are likely to snarl travel even further across wide swaths of the United States at the end of the holiday weekend.

Heading into Sunday — one of the busiest travel days of the year — there are two major storm systems that forecasters are concerned about, says National Weather Service meteorologist Lara Pagano.

One pummeling the Great Plains region at the moment is forecast to move east and impact travel into the Northeast by Sunday, she says.

Updated at 5:00 p.m. ET

A huge explosion early Wednesday has injured three people at a Texas chemical plant, and the strength of the blast shattered windows and damaged doors of nearby homes, startling sleeping residents.

After dark smoke billowed for hours from the plant after the 1 a.m. blast, another large explosion ripped through the plant in the early afternoon, sending up a huge ball of fire.

Two helicopters full of French troops pursuing militants in a remote region of Mali collided on Monday evening, killing 13 soldiers.

It's the "heaviest single loss for the French military in nearly four decades," according to Agence France-Presse. In 1983, an attack in Beirut killed 58 French paratroopers.

What if a single dose of ketamine could make a heavy drinker dramatically cut back on booze?

A team at University College London thinks that ketamine may be able to "rewrite" memories that shape a person's relationship with alcohol. Scientists say that participants who were given ketamine as part of an experimental study dramatically reduced their average alcohol intake for months after the initial dose. Their research was published Tuesday in Nature Communications.

Colombians have rallied against their leader, President Iván Duque, in a major wave of protests. Duque is trying to get a grip on the unrest by announcing a "national dialogue," and the capital city, Bogotá, was put under curfew Friday night.

Major rallies started in Colombia on Thursday. As reporter John Otis tells NPR from Colombia, the demonstrators are "angry over a great big long list of issues."

Updated at 3:40 p.m. ET

Israel's attorney general has decided to file charges against longtime Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in three corruption cases, according to a statement Thursday from the country's Justice Ministry. Israel has been mired in political uncertainty for months as it awaited the decision.

Netanyahu is Israel's first sitting prime minister to be indicted. He has long denied the allegations, saying they are politically motivated.

Israel is set to continue without a government and may be heading to new elections after Benny Gantz, rival of longtime Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Wednesday that he missed a deadline to form a government.

Netanyahu, who is facing the possibility of imminent indictment on corruption charges, also failed to form a coalition following the hotly contested election in September.

Dutch authorities say that a group of 25 stowaways were found in a refrigerated container onboard a cargo ship bound for the U.K. on Tuesday.

The ship, which according to local media is the Britannia Seaways, has returned to port in Vlaardingen. Local authorities said in a statement that the people are receiving medical assistance.

A days-long tense standoff between protesters and police is grinding on at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. The numbers of protesters barricaded inside the school has dwindled to about 100, and their food supplies are rapidly depleting after police surrounded the campus on Sunday.

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