Tue, May 03, 2011 - Page 5 News List

DEATH OF BIN LADEN: Pakistani tweeter provided real-time coverage of US raid

AFP and Reuters, SAN FRANCISCO and DUBAI

An information-technology consultant in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was an Internet celebrity yesterday after unwittingly providing a real-time account of the attack that killed Osama bin Laden.

Sohaib Athar, who tweets under the name “ReallyVirtual,” began sending Twitter messages complaining about helicopters hovering in an unusual early morning annoyance.

“Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event),” he wrote.

“Go away helicopter, before I take out my giant swatter,” he tweeted, adding moments later: “A huge window shaking bang here... I hope its not the start of something nasty.”

That message was followed in rapid succession by tweets telling of a helicopter crash, a family dying and then soldiers cordoning off part of the neighborhood and searching door-to-door.

After liveblogging and speculating for several hours over what happened, he eventually connected the ruckus to an announcement by US President Barack Obama that a US military team had killed bin Laden.

“There goes the neighborhood,” Athar tweeted. “Uh oh, now I’m the guy who live-blogged the Osama raid without knowing it.”

Athar’s comments were zealously “re-tweeted” by other Twitter users. The number of people signed on to follow his messages surged to more than 15,000.

Athar’s tweets, initially peppered with jokes eventually turned to exasperation as his e-mail 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”).

“People don’t use Twitter here, hence they don’t realize the attention they’re getting,” Athar said, referring to himself simply as a “tweeter” who happened to be awake when the action broke out. “Ignorance is bliss.”

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