14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed arrested after bringing handmade clock to school

President Obama tweets at Ahmed Mohamed after his arrest.

President Obama tweets at Ahmed Mohamed after his arrest.

On Monday, September 14, aspiring engineer Ahmed Mohamed walked into his high school in Irving, Texas, with a homemade digital clock that he been working on as a science project. However, rather than receiving credit for his assignment, the 14-year-old was arrested and questioned by police on charges of a bomb hoax.

According to Mohamed, when he showed his clock to his engineering teacher, Mohamed was told that it was “very nice” but advised “not to show any other teachers.” Kept in a metal pencil case with a circuit board and a power supply, the clock later made a beeping noise in his English class.

After showing the English teacher his clock, Mohamed claims that she told him, “It looks like a bomb.” The teacher then confiscated the device, and soon after, the school’s principal brought Mohamed into a room with five other police officers to be questioned and have his belongings searched.

“It could reasonably be mistaken as a device if left in a bathroom or under a car,” Irving police spokesman James McLellan told reporters. “The concern was, what was this thing built for? Do we take him into custody?” Mohamed was taken to a juvenile detention center where he was fingerprinted before eventually being released to his parents.

In an interview, Mohamed said, “I felt like I was a criminal. I felt like I was a terrorist. I felt like all the names I was called.” When asked to clarify, Mohamed said that in middle school he had been called a “terrorist and bomb-maker just because of my race and religion.” Mohamed’s father added that although “[Mohamed] just wants to invent good things for mankind, but because his name is Mohamed and because of September 11, I think my son got mistreated.”

The incident did not stop there, however, as social media picked up on the story and many proceeded to display their outrage at the situation due to the fact that Mohamed seemed to be profiled for his identification as a Muslim. The Twitter tag #IStandWithAhmed went viral in support of the young engineer and has been mentioned in over 100,000 tweets. Twitter even saw a mention from President Obama, tweeting from the official POTUS account, “Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It’s what makes America great.” Even Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg posted in support: “Having the skill and ambition to build something cool should lead to applause, not arrest. The future belongs to people like Ahmed. Ahmed, if you ever want to come by Facebook, I’d love to meet you. Keep building.”

Mohamed told reporters, “I built a clock to impress my teacher but when I showed it to her, she thought it was a threat to her. It was really sad that she took the wrong impression of it.” But in a statement after his release, Mohamed said that he was pleased that the charges against him were dropped, and that he did not mind that he did not receive an apology from the police department.

However, Irving Police Chief Larry Boyd went on record to say that the school and responding officer’s reaction to the clock “would have been the same regardless” of Mohamed’s religion. “We live in an age where you can’t take things like that to school,” Boyd said. The police chief plans to meet with Mohamed’s father to talk over the situation and answer any remaining questions for him. School district spokesperson Lesley Weaver also dismissed the notion that race or religion had anything to do with the issue, and that it was the students’ safety that was the main focus.

Support for Mohamed has also received criticism from several well-known public figures such as Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins. The two believe that profiling had nothing to do with the situation, and that all appropriate measures were taken when handling the case. “What if it had been a bomb?” Maher asked during an interview. “So the teacher is supposed to see something that looks like a bomb and go, ‘Oh wait, this just might be my white privilege talking. I sure don’t want to be politically incorrect, so I’ll just let it go.’”

Others have criticized the situation as a “purposeful hoax.” Two investigators on the case recently concluded that Mohamed did not make the clock, but rather took an existing one out of its case and transferred all the components to the metal pencil box. Scientist Richard Dawkins voiced his opinion on the matter, tweeting, “Assembling a clock from bought components is fine. Taking the clock out of its case to make it look as if he built it is not fine. Which is true?”

Many critics voiced their disapproval that a teenager was invited to the White House and Facebook headquarters, along with being given other perks, due to him taking credit for a “homemade” clock that is now believed to be bought from a store. But other critics are making even greater claims about the situation, saying it was a fraud for national attention, donation money, and to bring tension to race relations.

Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA franchise, claimed that he called Mohamed to talk about the situation because they grew up in the same area. In an interview, Cuban said that while they were talking on the phone, “as I ask[ed] him a question, ‘Tell me what happened because I’m curious.’ Right? His sister, over his shoulder, you could hear, listening to the question, giving him the answers.”

Adding to the claims of hoax, Mohamed’s father has also become a suspect of suspicion. His father, Mohamed Elhassan, immigrated to the United States from Sudan, where he ran twice for the country’s presidency. When he came to the States, he quickly anointed himself as an “Islamic rights” activist, but even those in his community are skeptical about his work. Imam Zia ul Haque Sheikh, the head of the Islamic Center of Irving, said that “this so-called leader, we have never heard of this person; I believe the whole thing is made up.”

This past week, Mohamed’s family has collected thousands of dollars from public funding campaigns, claiming that they will use the money to file a lawsuit against the school and the police officers involved in the case. On top of the donations, Mohamed has also received thousands of dollars’ worth of academic scholarships for his undergraduate studies. After speculation that it was all an elaborate hoax, the family has stated that they have no intention of returning any of the funding donations and will proceed with the lawsuit.

Although the charges were dropped against Mohamed, the school still decided to uphold his three-day suspension, prompting Mohamed to transfer to another high school this past week.