US President Barack Obama has issued a White House invitation to a Muslim schoolboy who was arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school.
Ninth-grade high school student Ahmed Mohamed from Irving, Texas, was arrested on Monday after his teachers reported him to the police for making a clock
, which they said resembled a bomb.
The arrest prompted outrage with thousands expressing their anger at authorities for arresting a 14-year-old boy over his school project.
Social media users rallied behind the teen using the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed, which has picked up more than 500,000 mentions on Twitter so far, according to analytics site Topsy, and continues to rise rapidly.
The story also ranked highest on the user-generated curation website, Reddit.
Police have said they will not charge Mohamed but he told reporters on Wednesday that he remains suspended from school until Thursday.
Many of the comments cited Mohamed's religious and ethnic background as the probable cause of his arrest, a viewpoint shared by the largest Muslim civil advocacy group in the US.
Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told Al Jazeera that it was "obvious" the school boy's religion had played a role in his arrest.
"We believe the arrest would not have occurred if the student had not been Muslim ... the school's reaction and that of the police stems from the fact that he is a Muslim," Hooper said.
"It is a symptom of growing Islamophobia that a 14-year-old was handcuffed and dragged away for doing a science project."
Mohamed, who is of Sudanese background, drew support from a number of high profile African-American personalities including talk-show host Montel Williams and rapper Talib Kweli Greene.
In a Facebook post, Williams suggested previous anti-Islamic statements made by Irving's mayor, Beth Van Duyne, had played a role in stirring up anti-Muslim sentiment in the area.
"She [Van Duyne] bought into a conspiracy theory that what is actually a faith-based voluntary mediation panel ... was some sort of attempt to impose Sharia law. She's now become a hero of the paranoid far right," Williams wrote.
As the hashtag spread on Twitter a number of NASA scientists gave their backing to Mohamed, including astronaut Chris Hadfield, and systems engineer Bobak Ferdowsi.
Ferdowsi said a similar incident could have put him off working for NASA.
Technology giant Google also weighed in on the issue, inviting Mohamed to a science fair, and asking him to bring his clock.
Many others on Twitter drew comparisons between how US authorities treated white people who carried arms and how they treated black youth like Mohamed, who were involved in benign activities.
One user poked fun at US police for arresting a child for carrying something as harmless as a clock.
Irving police dropped the case against the teen on Wednesday afternoon.
Follow Shafik Mandhai on Twitter: @ShafikFM
Source: Al Jazeera