Dubai: In the early hours of Monday, Sohaib Athar reported on his Twitter account that a loud bang had rattled his windows in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad, saying he hoped “its not the start of something nasty”.
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-Qaeda 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, first noticed a helicopter and thought it unusual enough to post this on his Twitter account.
“Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1 a.m. (is a rare event),” wrote Athar. Moments later, he added: “A huge window shaking bang here... I hope its not the start of something nasty.”
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 11 Sept 2001 attacks.
“I think the helicopter crash in Abbottabad, Pakistan and the President Obama breaking news address are connected,” said one of Athar’s followers.
Seven hours after Athar’s first tweet, 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”).
Athar did not respond to a request by Reuters for comment.
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 defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
“So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn,” Urbahn tweeted more than hour before Obama’s speech.