CHICAGO • A Texas teenager arrested after a teacher mistook his home-made clock for a bomb has won invitations to the White House, Google and Facebook, in a surge of public support.
United States President Barack Obama congratulated Ahmed Mohamed, 14, on his skills in a pointed rebuke to school and police officials amid accusations of Islamophobia. "Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science," he tweeted on Wednesday.
Ahmed was invited to the White House Astronomy Night on Oct 19, an event bringing together scientists, engineers, astronauts, teachers and students to spend a night star-gazing from the South Lawn.
Shortly before a news conference on Wednesday outside his home in Irving, the Muslim teen waved to a thick crowd of reporters from the doorway . He said he had indeed accepted Mr Obama's invitation. Asked about the attention and support he had received, Ahmed said: "It felt really outstanding."
He added that he wanted to use his moment in the spotlight to "try my best not just to help me but to help every other kid in the entire world that has a problem like this".
Ahmed's father Mohamed El Hassan, 54, said of his son's detainment: "That is not America. That is not us. That is not like us."
Ahmed told the Dallas Morning News he had hoped to impress teachers by bringing the clock to school on Monday. "I made a clock... they took it wrong, so I was arrested for a hoax bomb," he said in a video on the paper's website.
The son of Sudanese immigrants living in a Dallas suburb, Ahmed loved the robotics club in middle school and was hoping to find something similar at MacArthur High School. He did not get the reaction he had hoped for when he showed the clock to his teacher. The boy said: "He was like, 'That's really nice. I would advise you not to show any other teachers'."
When the clock alarm went off in another class, the teacher told him it looked like a bomb and confiscated it. The school called the police and he was taken away in cuffs amid suspicion that he intended to frighten people with the device.
The police said on Wednesday they had determined that Ahmed had no malicious intent, and it was "just a naive set of circumstances".
Irving police chief Larry Boyd insisted that Ahmed's ethnicity had nothing to do with the response.
"Our reaction would have been the same either way. That's a very suspicious device," he said. "We live in an age where you can't take things like that to school."
A school district spokesman also stood by the response, saying anyone who saw the homemade clock would understand that "we were doing everything with an abundance of caution". A photo provided by the police showed a flat, rectangular red digital clock face screwed into the dark plush interior of a silver case along with a circuit board and some wires. Ahmed said the police still had his clock.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest called the incident an opportunity to "search our own conscious for biases that might be there". The Council on American-Islamic Relations said the heavy-handed response was suspicious, given the anti-Muslim political climate across the nation.
A photo of Ahmed in handcuffs was retweeted thousands of times in hours. "#IStandWithAhmed" became the top trending hashtag on Twitter. It had been tweeted more than 800,000 times by Wednesday afternoon, according to analytics site Topsy.com.
Besides the White House invite, Ahmed also got an invite to meet Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg; drive Nasa's Opportunity rover; tour the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; intern at Twitter and visit Google.
Ahmed's family has launched a Twitter account to thank his supporters. "We can band together to stop this racial inequality and prevent this from happening again."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES