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Teen whiz makes a clock, gets arrested – and then invited to the White House

A 14-year-old Muslim student was arrested after bringing a homemade clock to school. After garnering thousands of supporters online, the precocious inventor gets a nod from President Barack Obama. 

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    Irving MacArthur High School student Ahmed Mohamed, 14, poses for a photo at his home in Irving, Texas. Ahmed was arrested and interrogated by Irving Police officers on Monday after bringing a homemade clock to school.
    Vernon Bryant
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A homemade clock got 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed arrested, and now, it’s gotten him an invite to the White House.

When the Texas high school student brought to school a homemade clock on Monday, a teacher was concerned that it was a bomb. School officers then pulled the boy out of class and called the police. After determining that he had created a “hoax bomb,” the police cuffed him and sent him to juvenile detention. Although Irving County police said Wednesday no charges will be brought against Ahmed, the inventor is in a three-day suspension from his school.

But things certainly haven’t been boring for Ahmed. Since the story of his clock hit the web Tuesday night, Ahmed has attracted a firestorm of media attention, particularly on Twitter. This afternoon, President Obama himself tweeted at Ahmed.

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“Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House?” @POTUS tweeted. “We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It's what makes America great.”

While the teen whiz has yet to publicly accept, Ahmed and his family have been updating his supporters with a Twitter account, @IStandWithAhmed, which was set up Wednesday morning.  Since then, they’ve gained more than 39,000 followers. The conversation, tracked by #IStandWithAhmed, has unfolded with more than 370,000 tweets.

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tweeted her support, along with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Mark Seibert, the lead flight director of the Mars Rover Opportunity mission.

Ahmed is an avid engineer – he was on the robotics team in middle school and his room is crammed with circuit boards. Pictures of him on the day of his arrest showed that he was wearing a NASA T-shirt, which elicited attention from personnel at the space agency.

“Hey Ahmed, give me a call in a couple years. We could always use smart, curious & creative people,” tweeted Bobak Ferdowski, an engineer at NASA.

At a news conference Wednesday, Irving Police Chief Larry Boyd clarified up that Ahmed had not made a bomb.

“The follow-up investigation revealed the device apparently was a homemade experiment,” says Boyd, “and there's no evidence to support the perception he intended to create alarm.”

But civil rights advocates are upset with police department’s course of action. The Dallas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations says Ahmed was targeted because of his religious and ethnic identity.

“This all raises a red flag for us: how Irving’s government entities are operating in the current climate,” Alia Salem, the director of the council’s North Texas chapter, tells the Dallas Morning News.

The Irving police maintains that they made the appropriate decision in arresting Ahmed, and that the boy’s religion had nothing to do with it. The mayor of Irving, Beth Van Duyne, also has spoken out in support of the police.

“I do not fault the school or the police for looking into what they saw as a potential threat. They have procedures to run when a possible threat or criminal act is discovered,” she writes in a Facebook post. “Hopefully, we can all learn from this week’s events and the student, who has obvious gifts, will not feel at all discouraged from pursuing his talent in electronics and engineering.”

This isn’t the first time the city of Irving finds itself in the national spotlight for matters concerning Islam. In 2015, Van Duyne made claims that Islamic sharia law was a threat to US culture and the Christian faith.

Ahmed tells the Dallas Morning News that when he was interrogated by the police, he felt suddenly conscious of his skin color and his name.

“It made me feel like I wasn't human” Ahmed says. 

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