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Live-tweeting on Osama raid, Pakistani becomes celebrity

Monday May 02, 2011 06:52:08 PM, IANS

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New Delhi: An Information Technology consultant in a small town in Pakistan has become the latest Twitter celebrity following an all-night live-tweeting session on the sudden appearance of a helicopter, loud bangs and gunfire which signalled the end of the world's most wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden.


Sohaib Athar, 33, living in Abbottabad, about 120 km from the capital Islamabad, had about a thousand followers on his twitter account when he first tweeted at about one in the night about a suspicious happening - "Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1 a.m. (is a rare event)".

Twelve hours later, he was suffering not just from lack of sleep, but from a deluge of twitter followers and queries from journalists from all over the world.

By Monday, Athar's Twitter follower count had already reached nearly 20,000.

The hovering helicopter was part of the US operations against the fugitive Al-Qaeda leader holed up in a fortified mansion in Abbottabad, about three km from where Athar was tweeting.

About 10 minutes after that first tweet, he wrote: "A huge window shaking bang here in Abbottabad Cantt. I hope its not the start of something nasty :-S".

Athar, who owns a coffee shop, linked to a blog post which said that local people were speculating about a helicopter crash near the Pakistan military academy and that security forces had surrounded the place.

Presciently, Athar tweeted: "The few people online at this time of the night are saying one of the copters was not Pakistani..."

But, at that time, there was of course no inkling a US operation was on against Osama bin Laden. Some other local persons tweeted about a bomb blast.

For the next three hours, with no information, there was a constant to-and-fro with other fellow Pakistani twitterers on what could be the provenance of the copter crash and the gunfire, which lasted a few minutes.

"Since Taliban (probably) don't have helicopters, and since they're saying it was not 'ours', so must be a complicated situation #abbottabad," tweeted Athar at about 2 a.m. Pakistan time.

At 8 a.m., about an hour before US President Barak Obama's announcement, Athar posted, "Interesting rumors in the otherwise uneventful Abbottabad air today".

But, there were hints that something important had happened in the city. "Report from a taxi driver: The army has cordoned off the crash area and is conducting door-to-door search in the surrounding," tweeted Athar.

After the official announcement, he understood that things will not be the same anymore.

It took another hour before the deluge of followers started. "Uh oh, now I'm the guy who live-blogged the Osama raid without knowing it," Athar said.

When IANS contacted him, Athar said that he was flooded by a large amount of media queries following his all-night tweeting.

"I am sorry but I am overwhelmed with emails/phones/chat requests at the moment - I will definitely try to answer your questions, probably as a blog post - as soon as I can. I had been working all night and didn't anticipate that I'd need to stay awake till noon too, so it is hard to talk over phone/voice chat," said Athar.





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