Twitter page of Sohaib Athar 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In the early hours of Monday, Sohaib Athar reported on Twitter that a loud bang had rattled his windows in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad, adding that he hoped it wasn't "the start of something nasty."
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A few hours later Athar posted another tweet: "Uh oh, now I'm the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it."
In the age of Twitter, perhaps it's no surprise that the first signs of
the US operation that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden were
noticed by an IT consultant awake late at night.
Athar, a resident of Abbottabad where bin Laden was holed up in a
fortified mansion, first noticed the sound of a helicopter and thought
it unusual enough to post via his Twitter account.
"I was awake, working on my computer when I heard a sound of helicopter.
It was rare here. It hovered for about six minutes and then there was a
big blast and power gone," Athar, 34, said in an interview with
"I tweeted it because it was something unusual in the city," said Athar,
adding that he moved from Lahore to the city a year and a half ago to
avoid "bomb blasts and terrorist attacks".
After live-blogging and speculating for several hours over what
happened, it dawned on Athar and those following him that they were
witnessing the end of a worldwide manhunt for the man held responsible
for orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
"I think the helicopter crash in Abbottabad, Pakistan and the President
Obama breaking news address are connected," said one of Athar's
Seven hours after Athar's first tweet, US President Barack Obama
announced bin Laden's death in an operation by US forces where one
helicopter was lost.
Twitter, launched five years after the 2001 attacks, is used by an
estimated 200 million people per day, serving as an internet platform
for users to broadcast, track and share short messages of no more 140
characters in length.
Athar's tweets, initially peppered with jokes ("Uh oh, there goes the
neighborhood") eventually turned to exasperation as his email inbox,
Skype and Twitter accounts were flooded by those trying to reach him
("Ok, I give up. I can't read all the @ mentions so I'll stop trying").
The number of people following Athar, whose Twitter handle is
"ReallyVirtual", ballooned to nearly 33,000 later on Monday, from
several hundred before.
Athar also runs a coffee shop in the center of Abbottabad, across from
the Army Burn Hall College school in the same neighborhood as bin
Laden's mansion. He fears that his new hometown, a relatively affluent
enclave about 35 miles (60 km) north of Islamabad, could now come under
"They can attack military installation and this city has more targets than anywhere else," Athar said.
Separately, in the United States, the first indication that bin Laden
had been found and killed came from a another tweet by Keith Urbahn, who
says on his Twitter profile that he is chief of staff for former US
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
"So I'm told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot
damn," Urbahn tweeted more than an hour before Obama's speech.