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Abbotabad tweeter recalls bin Laden raid

posted 5 May 2011, 10:54 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 5 May 2011, 10:56 ]

Sohaib Athar, the Pakistani tweeter who unwittingly live-tweeted the U.S. commando raid on bin Laden's compound, recounts assault.

ABBOTTABAD, PAKISTAN (MAY 5 , 2011) REUTERS - In the early hours of Monday (May 2), 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".

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 sitting at my house at around 1 a.m, and I was working online when I heard helicopter hovering above Abbottabad. And it was there for like five to eight minutes at least," Athar told Reuters Television On Thursday (May 5).

He said he tweeted it because it was something unusual in the city, adding that he moved from Lahore to the city a year and a half ago to avoid "bomb blasts and terrorist attacks".

"After that I went to sleep. When I woke up there were rumours that Osama bin Laden was dead and there was going to be a speech about it," he said.

After liveblogging 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. It was then that Athar posted another tweet: "Uh oh, now I'm the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it."

Seven hours after Athar's first tweet, U.S. President Barack Obama announced bin Laden's death in an operation by U.S. forces where one helicopter was lost. 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 centre of Abbottabad, across from the Army Burn Hall College school in the same neighbourhood 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 attack.