US SEALs shot bin Laden, Twitter shot traditional media

Seven hours before President Obama's announcement and many hours
before traditional media breaking it, a computer programmer was
live-blogging the final moments of bin Laden, albeit unknowingly.


'I'm the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it'
Computer programmer unwittingly tweets description of operation which
al-Qaida leader

By news services

A computer programmer, startled by a helicopter clattering above his
quiet Pakistani town early Monday, did what any social-media addict
would do: he began sending messages to Twitter.

With his tweets, 33-year-old Sohaib Athar (@ReallyVirtual), who moved
to Abbottabad to escape the big city,inadvertently recorded the end of
a worldwide manhunt for the man held responsible for orchestrating the
September 11, 2001 attacks.

"Uh oh, now I'm the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing
it," he tweeted.

Athar, a resident of the town where Osama bin Laden was holed up,
thought the helicopter flying overhead was unusual enough to post it
on his Twitter account. That first tweet was innocuous: "Helicopter
hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event)."

When he heard a loud bang that shook his windows, he wrote that he
hoped "its not the start of something nasty." The noise alarmed Athar,
who had moved to the upscale area of Abbottabad to get away from city
life after his wife and child were badly injured in a car accident in
the sprawling city of Lahore, according to his blog in July.

As the operation to kill bin Laden unfolded, Athar liveblogged what he
was hearing in real time. He questioned whose helicopters might be
flying overhead. "The few people online at this time of the night are
saying one of the copters was not Pakistani," he tweeted.

Throughout the battle, he related the rumors swirling through town: it
was a training accident. Somebody was killed. The aircraft might be a
drone. The army was conducting door-to-door searches in the
surrounding area. The sound of an airplane could be heard overhead.
Athar then said one of the aircraft appeared to have been shot down.
Two more helicopters rushed in, he reported, and gunfire and
explosions rocked the air above the town.

Soon Athar's tweets earned him 14,000 new followers as he unwittingly
described the U.S. operation to kill one of the world's most wanted
militants. After liveblogging and speculating for several hours over
what happened, it dawned on Athar and those following him that they
were witnessing bin Laden's final moments.

"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 U.S.
forces where one helicopter was lost.

"Eight hours and about 35 tweets later, the confirmation came: "Osama
Bin Laden killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan," Athar reported. "There goes
the neighborhood."

Athar's tweets, initially peppered with jokes 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's requests for comment — he
explained in another tweet that a filter he set up to stop his email
box from flooding could be culling out requests for interviews. He
apologized, saying he was sorry "for not being able to reply to ...
queries individually."

Separately, in the U.S., the first indication that bin Laden had been
found and killed came from another tweet by Keith Urbahn
(@KeithUrbahn), who says on his Twitter profile that he is chief of
staff for former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "So I'm told
by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn,"
Urbahn tweeted more than an hour before Obama's speech.

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment