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No bomb charges against Muslim boy who brought homemade clock to school

When Ahmed Mohamed decided to bring a homemade electronic clock to his Texas school, he hoped his teachers would be impressed with his ingenuity. Instead, Ahmed found himself at the center of a teachable moment on racism and terrorism after he was taken from the school in handcuffs because a teacher thought the device was a bomb.

On Monday, Ahmed, 14, brought the device, a collection of wires and electronic gizmos, to MacArthur High School in Irving, near Dallas. The boy, who had never been in trouble before, was eventually sent to the principal’s office and questioned by four police officers. They led the ninth-grader, who was wearing a NASA T-shirt, from the campus in handcuffs and took him to a youth detention center where he was fingerprinted and then released to his parents.

On Wednesday, after an outcry that shook social media and echoed in corridors of power including the White House, Texas officials announced that Ahmed would not be charged. Wearing the now-famous NASA T-shirt, Ahmed told reporters he was pleased that the charges have gone away. He said he learned an important lesson that applies to everyone.

“Go for it,” Ahmed told reporters at a televised news conference. “Don’t let people change who you are even if you get a consequence for it.”

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Ahmed also thanked his backers who helped his case go viral.

“Thank you to all my supporters on Twitter, Facebook, all social media,” said the ninth-grader. “Thank you all for helping me. I would never have got this far if it wasn’t for you guys.”

Irving Police Chief Larry Boyd defended his officers’ response but said later investigation showed that no criminal counts were warranted against the boy, who could have been charged with instigating a fake bomb hoax.

“We live in an age where you can’t take things like that to school,” Boyd said at a televised news conference Wednesday morning. The clock looked “suspicious in nature,” but there was no evidence that Ahmed meant to cause any alarm so the case “is considered closed.”

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He insisted that the reaction to the homemade clock “would have been the same regardless” of Ahmed’s Muslim religion and the turbulence in the Mideast.

But Ahmed’s father, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, said he was unconvinced. He told the Dallas Morning News, which broke the story, that his son “just wants to invent good things for mankind. But because his name is Mohamed and because of Sept. 11, I think my son got mistreated.”

“God Bless America,” the father told reporters at the news conference.

Within hours of the first report of the incident, the case took on a virtual life of its own, inspiring hundreds of thousand of tweets under the tag #IstandWithAhmed. Civil rights groups including the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the American Civil Liberties Union rushed to the boy’s defense and condemned what they called an overreaction by authorities.

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“Instead of encouraging his curiosity, intellect and ability, the Irving [school district] saw fit to throw handcuffs on a frightened 14-year-old Muslim boy wearing a NASA T-shirt and then remove him from school,” Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU in Texas, said in a statement.

The incident led to an outpouring of support from the rich and powerful as President Obama and Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg extended invitations for the boy to stop by.

Mark Zuckerberg to @IStandWithAhmed: “If you ever want to come by Facebook, I’d love to meet you. Keep building.”

“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,” the president said in a tweet.

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The White House said the boy could come to an astronomy night that is being organized. Ahmed said he would accept the invitation.

CAIR, the Muslim civil rights group, said the incident reflects a growing anti-Islamic backlash. The CAIR chapter near Irving has been fighting a City Council endorsement of state bills dealing with foreign laws. The bills would prohibit local judges from citing rulings based on “foreign laws” in civil matters. Many Muslims view the effort as anti-Sharia and driven by anti-Muslim sentiment.

“This all raises a red flag for us: how Irving’s government entities are operating in the current climate,” Alia Salem, who directs the council’s North Texas chapter, told the Morning News. She said she has spoken to lawyers about Ahmed’s arrest.

“We’re still investigating,” she said, “but it seems pretty egregious.”

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The clock is a circuit board connected to a power supply and a digital display. Ahmed said he “built the clock to impress my teacher. I showed it to her and she thought it was a threat. It’s very sad that she got the wrong impression.”

As for the clock, Ahmed said it remained in police custody.

michael.muskal@latimes.com

Twitter: latimesmuskal

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