'Serial' Verdict Overturned, Taliban Swap, and a Chess Scandal Escalates Everything you need to know for today in five minutes.

Good morning. It's Tuesday, Sept. 20, and we're covering the overturned murder conviction of Adnan Syed, a prisoner swap between the US and Afghanistan, and much more. Have feedback? Let us know at [email protected].


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Adnan Syed Released

A judge yesterday vacated the murder conviction of Adnan Syed, who drew national attention after the popular true-crime podcast series "Serial" in 2014 cast doubt on his role in the 1999 murder of his former girlfriend, Hae Min Lee (listen here). Syed was ordered to be released under home detention after prosecutors in the case asked for a new trial, saying they no longer had confidence in the integrity of the conviction. 


Syed, 41, had been serving a life sentence for the strangulation of Lee, whose body was found in Baltimore's Leakin Park. Prosecutors at the time had relied on cellphone records showing Syed was in the vicinity of the crime but now question the cellphone tower data and want to consider two alternative suspects who they say were not properly ruled out. Prosecutors have 30 days to decide whether they will pursue a new trial or drop charges.


Syed has maintained his innocence throughout the yearslong case, rejecting a guilty plea deal in 2018 that would have set him free this year. 

US-Taliban Hostage Swap

President Joe Biden announced the release of Mark Frerichs, a US prisoner held hostage for over two years in Afghanistan, as part of a prisoner swap for Bashir Noorzai, a Taliban drug lord serving a life sentence in federal prison.


Frerichs, a 60-year-old Navy veteran, was first abducted by the Haqqani network (see overview) from Kabul in 2020 after being lured to a fake business meeting while working as a civil engineering contractor. Frerichs, an Illinois native, had worked in the country for over a decade and is said to be in stable health. Noorzai was convicted in 2008 of directing a drug-trafficking operation and was a financier of the Taliban in the 1990s.


The news comes just days after the president met with family members of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, Americans detained in Russia. More than 60 Americans are believed to be wrongfully detained worldwide, including at least one other American, Ivor Shearer, in Taliban custody.

UN General Assembly Commences

Leaders from over 150 countries are gathering in New York City this week as the United Nations opens the 77th session of the General Assembly, its first fully in-person meeting since 2019. 


The assembly is the most representative body in the United Nations, the world's largest intergovernmental association (see background). In the opening days, heads of state deliver speeches while diplomats meet amid one of the world's premier networking events for international development. This year's agenda is expected to be dominated by Russia's war in Ukraine and its impact on the global food and energy supply; notably, top leaders from Russia, China, and India have opted out of attending.


Ukraine's embattled President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will deliver the only remote speech of the session, while US President Joe Biden will speak Wednesday, later than usual due to his return from Queen Elizabeth's funeral. See the live list of speakers here

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Sports, Entertainment, & Culture

> Queen Elizabeth II buried after more than a week of ceremonies; see the final day in photos (More) | Funeral estimated to have been the most-watched event in the history of television, with total viewers projected to be potentially above a billion  (More)


> Steven Spielberg's "The Fabelmans" wins top award at Toronto International Film Festival (More) | Woody Allen denies reported plan to retire from filmmaking (More)


> Rockstar Games acknowledges a hacker obtained 3GB of footage from upcoming "Grand Theft Auto 6," described as one of the biggest leaks in video game history; the GTA franchise is the fifth bestselling of all time (More)

Science & Technology

In partnership with Brilliant

> NASA's InSight Mars probe detects first signals from meteoroids impacting the planet's surface; data expected to provide better understanding of the planet's subsurface geology (More)


> Study of fossilized eggs concludes diversity of dinosaur species was declining during the late Cretaceous period, suggesting the animals were on the decline prior to a massive asteroid strike 66 million years ago (More)


> Researchers transplant genetic repair mechanism from moss into human cells, showing the machinery will begin trying to correct errors in the cell's DNA (More)

From our partners: Sharpen your math and science skills. Whether you’re a professional looking for an edge in your career or a lifelong learner sharpening your skills, Brilliant is the best way to learn. With thousands of interactive lessons, you'll learn hands-on with everything from foundational math to data science, machine learning, and beyond. Join 10M+ people around the world and start learning for free today.

Business & Markets

> US stock markets close higher (S&P 500 +0.7%, Dow +0.6%, Nasdaq +0.8%) to kick off the week (More) | US 10-year Treasury yields increase to 3.5%, highest level since 2011 (More)


> Volkswagen targets Porsche initial public offering valuation of approximately 75B euros as company aims to raise near 10B euros; would be Germany’s second-largest IPO in history (More)


> US return-to-office rate of 47.5% is highest since March 2020; Tuesdays and Wednesdays see highest in-office rate (More)

Politics & World Affairs

> At least one person dead after magnitude 7.6 earthquake hits Mexico's central Pacific coast on the anniversary of two previous quakes in 1985 and 2017 (More) | Hurricane Fiona reaches the Dominican Republic; millions in Puerto Rico still without power (More) | See storm trajectory (More) | See photos (More)


> Russian missile explodes less than 1,000 feet from Pivdennoukrainsk nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine; the nuclear station is Ukraine's second largest after Zaporizhzhia, which was shut down last month due to Russian shelling (More)


> The Pentagon plans to review clandestine information warfare operations after Twitter and Meta both identified and took down more than 150 fake accounts suspected of being connected to the US military (More



Why do Russian Executives Keep Dying?

Grid News | Staff. At least a dozen wealthy Russian executives have met their ends under questionable circumstances since the beginning of the year. Is it a coincidence or conspiracy? (Read)

Cyberstalking at eBay

NY Times | David Streitfeld. A look into a cyberstalking scheme at eBay meant to terrorize the creators of an online newsletter and the victims who are on a mission to keep the company responsible. (Read)

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The chess world's biggest scandal continues to escalate


Comet on Christmas Day tops astronomy photography contest.


The lady who might have been queen of England.


AI imagines how deceased celebrities may look today.


Watch Taiwan's homemade flying machine competition.


Hawaii-bound passengers receive mid-flight ukulele lessons


Yeti coolers are washing up on Alaska's beaches.


When there's a snake in your toilet


Clickbait: Shark with GPS tracker draws a self-portrait. (via Twitter)


Historybook: American author Upton Sinclair born (1878); Legendary basketball coach Red Auerbach born (1917); Actress Sophia Loren born (1934); Billie Jean King beats Bobby Riggs in "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match (1973); Hurricane Maria makes landfall in Puerto Rico, resulting in 3,000 deaths and $90B in damage (2017).


"Champions keep playing until they get it right."

- Billie Jean King

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