Athar is a 33-year-old IT consultant in Abbottabad, the Pakistani city where bin Laden’s compound was located. More than seven hours before President Obama addressed the nation to deliver the news, he began a string of tweets that became one of the first eyewitness accounts of a terrorist mastermind’s historic last stand. They started simply enough:
“Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event).”
And then about ten minutes later, “A huge window shaking bang here in Abbottabad Cantt. I hope its not the start of something nasty…”
Athar also tweeted and re-tweeted the conflicting reports and rumors about the helicopter crash that U.S. officials says was due to “mechanical error.” Several hours after his initial tweet about the helicopters, he wrote:
“Another rumor: two copters that followed the crashed one were foreign Cobras – and got away…”
“It’s ironic,” Athar told journalist Omar Waraich. “I left Lahore because of the bombs, then I come to Abbottabad and find out that Bin Laden lived here”
Athar had previously written on his blog of his decision to move to the upscale mountain retreat after members of his family were injured in a car accident in his hometown, the sprawling and congested city of Lahore.
In the past 24 hours, followers of Athar’s Twitter feed swelled by tens of thousands. He tweeted about setting up a Gmail filter for the new follower notifications, immediately reducing the new e-mails in his inbox by thousands. Twelve hours after the episode began, Athar reported being flooded by interview requests from journalists, and two journalists from Islamabad appeared in person on his doorstep.
Athar’s Twitter stream finally stopped as the workday was about to begin on the U.S. East Coast with one last tweet:
“Bin Laden is dead. I didn’t kill him. Please let me sleep now.”
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