While virtually everyone by now has heard the news that U.S. forces have killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, it was an IT consultant and his Twitter account that provided the earliest news of the successful military raid.
Sohaib Athar (right), a programmer living in Abbottabad, Pakistan, sent this tweet 15 hours ago: "Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event)."
That was followed by: "A huge window shaking bang here in Abbottabad Cantt. I hope its not the start of something nasty :-S."
(Update, May 5: He's still in the spotlight)
For the ensuing 14 hours, Athar tweeted reports, observations and rumors, quickly drawing the attention of reporters, who had difficulty reaching him.
Among his entries:
"Since taliban (probably) don't have helicpoters, and since they're saying it was not "ours", so must be a complicated situation."
"Uh oh, now I'm the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it."
"Interesting, I didn't think my name would trend on twtter before releasing a couple of rock albums and a few award-winning software...."
And this from one of Athar's followers: "I think the helicopter crash in Abbottabad, Pakistan and the President Obama breaking news address are connected."
Here's how Athar describes himself on his blog, which is experiencing performance problems as I write, presumably caused by the worldwide attention he is receiving: "Sohaib Athar is a 33 year old guy from Lahore, Pakistan. He has 18 years of programming experience and 7 years of parenting experience."
Athar decided to move from Lahore last year after his wife and child were involved in a serious car accident. From his blog:
"Most of us Pakistani IT professionals spend our lives shielded from the 'system'. Yes, we sometimes come out of our shells and protest against whatever we believe we have to demonstrate against - and yes, we do write blog posts and opine and criticize and debate, and sometimes attend the feel-good TEDx talks to 'spread ideas' - but living in front of our computers, we rarely get a first-hand experience of the system that we loathe (but one that we have to live in).
I was forced to get a taste of the 'system' last April, when my wife and son were in a near-fatal car accident. Their car was hit by a police van on their way to school."
The experience prompted Athar to move from Lahore to Abbottabad, where he would play his small role in a historical event.
The headline on a brief post to his blog indicates he may have more to say soon: "THE GUY WHO LIVEBLOGGED THE OSAMA RAID WITHOUT KNOWING IT ... is what I am for the next few hours on twitter. I am too tired and sleepy to blog or talk about it though, but I guess it is finally time to revive this abandoned blog. Maybe tomorrow..."
Athar continues to be besieged with media requests, his latest tweet from a half-hour ago reading: "Bin Laden is dead. I didn't kill him. Please let me sleep now."
That would seem unlikely.
(Update: He didn't sleep long; here's his latest tweet from just after noon EDT: "I apologize for reporting the operation 'unwittingly/unknowingly' - had I known about it, I would have tweeted about it 'wittingly' I swear.")
(Update, Thursday, May 5, 3 p.m.: He seems to be adjusting to his life as a media celebrity.)
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