Bin Laden Attack Accidentally Tweeted By Witness

An Abbottabad resident tweeted about a noisy night of helicopters and explosions – not realising the truth

The killing of Osama bin Laden has been burning across the wires since before it was officially announced on a special broadcast by President Obama at 10:50pm EST (03:50 BST).

The world of Twitter and Facebook has created a rumour mill that beats official news streams. The first official hint that something was in the wind came from a tweet by Keith Urbahn, chief of staff for US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and a US Navy Reserve intelligence officer.

Twitter Gossip Foreshadows The News

An hour before Obama addressed the nation, Urbahn tweeted, “So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama bin Laden. Hot damn.”

This was immediately followed by: “Don’t know if its true, but let’s pray it is.”

Twitter went wild and topped 4,000 tweets per second during Obama’s announcement confirming the rumours that the instigator of the 9/11 attacks was dead.

bin Laden was killed in an attack on a high-walled mansion in Abbottabad 60km (40 miles) from the Pakistan capital Islamabad. The mansion was a few blocks away from Pakistan Military Academy but bin Laden was not discovered until US intelligence officers became suspicious that such a large mansion had no telephone, no Internet connection and all of the rubbish was burned rather than disposed of on communal rubbish tips.

After a short gun fight – reported as lasting four or five minutes by a Twitter user – bin Laden was killed, visually identified and, soon afterwards, DNA checks confirmed his identity.

Tweeter Live-Blogs Without Realising

Sohaib Athar

The whole assault was witnessed by Sohaib Athar (@ReallyVirtual), an IT consultant who lives nearby. Not realising what it was all about, he tweeted his annoyance:

“Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event)” [21.00 BST]
“Go away helicopter – before I take out my giant swatter :-/”
“A huge window shaking bang here in Abbottabad Cantt. I hope its not the start of something nasty :-S”

His blog continued as he received reports and rumours from the Internet and local people. At first, he was told by a road sweeper that a helicopter had crashed, killing a local family. It was only hours later that he learnt the truth:

“Uh oh, now I’m the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it.”

Athar was inundated with requests from the media for comment and commentary but, as the power was cut in Abbottabad, he was mainly interested in powering up his generator so he could make himself a coffee. After all, he had moved from Isalamabad for a quiet life.

Meanwhile, a Facebook page had been set up entitled Osama bin Laden is Dead and soon 265,000 “Likes” had been registered. YouTube had set up an area of its home page for bin-Laden-related videos and Foursquare had a Post-Osama bin Laden World with over 200 San Franciscans checked in.

On the darker side, a US soldier had photographed a screenshot form a military computer, claiming it to be a picture of bin Laden. The Internet is now filling up with copies of the image.

In Twitter’s Trending Topics, the top two items and four other topics are all bin Laden related.