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 parent company of Alaska Airlines has struck a deal to buy Virgin America, creating a West Coast-focused airline. If approved by regulators and Virgin America's shareholders, the combined airline will be the fifth-largest U.S. carrier, according to Alaska Air Group.

"By bringing them together, we're creating the premier airline for people who live anywhere on the West Coast," Alaska Air Group CEO Brad Tilden said in a statement.

The European Union has started deporting migrants from Greece as part of its controversial deal with Turkey. The agreement, aimed at stemming the massive flow of migrants into the EU, has been widely criticized by rights groups.

Joanna Kakissis on the Greek island of Lesbos tells our Newscast unit that three ferries left the islands of Lesbos and Chios this morning, accompanied by officers from Frontex, the EU border agency.

The CIA "inadvertently left" explosive material on a school bus after a training exercise with local law enforcement in Loudoun County, Va., the agency and the country sheriff's office say.

The U.S. economy gained 215,000 jobs in March, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says in its monthly report released Friday. The unemployment rate rose slightly to 5 percent, up from 4.9 percent in the month before.

"The increase in the unemployment rate came because we had more people looking for work," economist Gus Faucher of PNC Financial Services tells our Newscast unit.

A Virginia State trooper who was shot multiple times at a Greyhound bus station in Richmond, Va., Thursday has died from his injuries, according to Virginia State Police Superintendent Col. Steven Flaherty.

South Africa's top court has found that President Jacob Zuma is liable for a portion of some $20 million in public funds spent on what he called a security upgrade to his private residence.

Scientists have discovered a well-preserved 305 million-year-old arachnid that is "almost a spider" in France. In a new journal article, they say the fossil sheds some light on the origins of "true" spiders.

The main point of distinction: This newly discovered arachnid very likely could produce silk but lacked the spinnerets used by true spiders to, well, spin it, the scientists say. The researchers say it belongs to a "sister group" to the real-deal spiders.

The Department of Justice announced Wednesday that it has reached an agreement with Newark, N.J., on changes to the city's police department.

NPR's Carrie Johnson tells our Newscast unit that this comes after "civil rights investigators had uncovered a pattern of unconstitutional stops and property thefts." She adds:

"The Justice Department team studied thousands of unjustified stops and searches by the Newark police that had a disparate impact on minorities.

French President Francois Hollande is abandoning a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed the government to strip convicted terrorists of their French citizenship.

"A compromise appears out of reach on the stripping of terrorists' nationality," Hollande told reporters, according to AFP. "I also note that a section of the opposition is hostile to any constitutional revision. I deeply regret this attitude."

Just over a year ago, a Saudi-led coalition started a major offensive in Yemen in support of the country's embattled President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The coalition airstrikes are aimed at pushing back the Shiite Houthi rebels, who swept down from northern Yemen in 2014 and took control of major portions of the country.

But it's not just two warring sides – southern separatists and powerful tribes also have a stake in the fight. And an al-Qaida branch and a burgeoning ISIS affiliate have benefited from the violence.

New York state has joined the cities of Seattle, San Francisco and New York in restricting non-essential public-employee travel to North Carolina. The moves are in response to a newly passed North Carolina law that critics say is discriminatory to the LGBT community.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive order bans "all taxpayer-funded trips trip to North Carolina, unless they're essential to public health or law enforcement," NPR's Hansi Lo Wang tells our Newscast unit.

Cypriot authorities say they have arrested the hijacker of an EgyptAir plane after an hours-long standoff in Larnaca, Cyprus. All the passengers and crew had been released.

The man's motivations are still murky. Cypriot officials describe the suspected hijacker as "unstable" and tell NPR that he wanted to speak to his Cyprus-based ex-wife. He later requested political asylum, they say. Cyprus' Ministry of Foreign Affairs identified the man as Seif Eldin Mustafa. Earlier news reports had identified a different man.

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina and several other plaintiffs have filed a federal lawsuit over a North Carolina law they say discriminates against the state's LGBT community.

The law, passed last week in a special session by the state's Legislature and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory, blocks "local governments from passing anti-discrimination rules to grant protections to gay and transgender people," as we reported.

After a suicide bombing ripped through a crowded park on Easter evening in the city of Lahore, Pakistan has declared an official three-day mourning period. Meanwhile, authorities are trying to track down those responsible for the attack that killed at least 70 people.

A splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, has claimed responsibility for the attack. As we reported, a spokesman for the group said it was intended to target Christians.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, facing mounting pressure from corporations with interests in his state, said Monday that he will veto a controversial "religious liberties" bill.

Belgian federal prosecutors said Monday they have charged three more people with participating in a terrorist group, following Tuesday's deadly attacks at Brussels' airport and a metro station.

NPR's Melissa Block tells our Newscast unit that the new charges come after a series of raids around Brussels.

The Nigerian army claims to have rescued more than 800 hostages from Boko Haram, the militant group that has held major swathes of territory in the country.

NPR's Gregory Warner tells our Newscast Unit that it "was not immediately clear whether the rescues included any of the 200 schoolgirls kidnapped nearly two years ago [who inspired] the #BringBackOurGirls movement." Here's more from Gregory:

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has signed a bill that makes his state the second to ban abortion because of a fetal abnormality. The measure also criminalizes the procedure when motivated solely because of factors such as the fetus's sex or race.

An Islamic State leader who has been described as the militant group's finance minister has been killed, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced Friday.

"We are systematically eliminating ISIL's cabinet," Carter said. "Indeed, the U.S. military killed several key ISIL terrorists this week, including, we believe, Hajji Iman, who was an ISIL leader — senior leader — serving as a finance minister and who was also responsible for some external affairs and plots."

A Canadian court has acquitted Jian Ghomeshi, the former CBC radio host who was fired in 2014 amid multiple allegations of sexual assault.

In this case, which involved complaints from three different women regarding incidents in 2002 and 2003, Ghomeshi was charged with four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance to sexual assault by choking.

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