2 May 2011

The man who tweeted Osama bin Laden raid – without knowing

The man who live-tweeted the US raid on Osama bin Laden – without realising – becomes a Twitter sensation. He moved to Abbottabad in Pakistan for a quiet life, but took with him the social media age.

Osama bin Laden death: the man who tweeted the raid.

An IT consultant in Pakistan has become famous worldwide following his random involvement in the story of Osama bin Laden‘s death.

Sohaib Athar live-tweeted the top secret raid on the al-Qaeda leader’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, without at first realising what was going on.

Mr Athar was checking his Twitter feed (@ReallyVirtual) on Sunday night when the sound of a helicopter flying overhead got his attention. He then posted a series of updates about the “rare” overnight disturbance outside.

He unknowingly broke news that the biggest manhunt in history was over when he typed: Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event). In the next post he jokes about “swatting away” the aircraft.

Bin Laden death: Sohaib Athar's Twitter posts.

Once Athar realises something significant is under way, he reports a large explosion (the US helicopter), tweeting: A huge window shaking bang here in Abbottabad Cantt. I hope its not the start of something nasty :-S

And then: Uh oh, now I’m the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it.

The 33-year-old later said not many people in Abbottabad use Twitter, which may have helped his messages stand out and gain world attention. Within 24 hours he has gained tens of thousands of followers – at the last count more than 65,000 people.

Bin Laden death: crashed helicopter in Abbottabad.

(Pictured: Part of a damaged helicopter near the compound where al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad)

As the world’s media flooded him with messages, he became a little overwhelmed with enquiries: I am JUST a tweeter, awake at the time of the crash.

And before switching off his computer to sleep he tells his snowballing number of Twitter friends: Bin Laden is dead. I didn’t kill him. Please let me sleep now.

After a well-earned sleep, he later posted pictures and video of the bin Laden compound, filmed by his friend in Abbottabad (See below).

The social media age

Sohaib Athar’s strange journey to social media stardom speaks volumes about the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden, and the changing world book-ended by the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and bin Laden’s death in 2011.

Terror leader bin Laden notoriously avoided being close to telecommunications equipment, in case it could be used to track him and expose his location. After September the 11th he went into hiding in a series of caves at Tora Bora in Afghanistan.

But during his ten years eluding captivity, social media has evolved into a new people-led communication network of reporters on the ground the world over, using Facebook, Twitter and many other sites to share their stories.

Bin Laden, no longer the world’s most hunted. Sohaib Athar, for now, the world’s most famous man on Twitter.