#Open journalism No news is bad news

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support The Journal
Dublin: 14°C Monday 4 July 2022

'If Bin Laden was following me on Twitter, he may have had an early warning'

TheJournal.ie spoke to Sohaib Athar, four years after he unknowingly live-tweeted history in the making.

LATE INTO THE night of Sunday 1 May 2011, 34-year-old Sohaib Athar was awake and doing some IT work at his home in the hills in north-eastern Pakistan.

He heard a strange noise outside, and idly tweeted about it. Within a few hours, he would be talked about globally, and have a small part in world history.


Unknown to him at the time, Sohaib was live-tweeting the US Navy Seal raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, a couple of miles away from his home.

Four years on, TheJournal.ie caught up with the software consultant and coffee shop owner, to see how life has changed since he clicked “Tweet” that night.

4 Source: Sohaib Athar

TheJournal.ie: When you look back at that night, now, what’s your abiding memory of it? Do you think of it as “the night that changed your life”?

Sohaib Athar: It certainly didn’t “change my life” forever. To me, it was more of an interesting event that I happened to be a part of… Osama Bin Laden’s death did not solve our problems, or the problems of the world at large.

TJ: How does it feel to be a “part of history”? It’s been four years now – are things finally “back to normal”?

SA: I think it made me more of a small part of the history of electronic social media than the wider world “history”, but besides that, nothing has changed really.

I didn’t want the incident to change my life as well, so I declined offers of money and exclusive interviews, and tried to stick to my normal routine as much as possible, without using the incident as a self-promotion tool.


TJ: Have you seen any of the prominent American accounts of the raid, like Zero Dark Thirty and Seal Team Six? Any thoughts?

SA: I did see Zero Dark Thirty, and was amused and irritated by the inaccuracies in the movie.

There were things in there that they could easily have gotten right, but I guess that’s what Hollywood is all about – a movie without turbans and camels wouldn’t have been as interesting.

I didn’t bother seeing Seal Team Six as its IMDB rating falls below my personal filter of 7.

TJ: 2 May 2011 was probably the first time many people had even heard the name “Abbottabad.” What are a couple of things about the city that the world should know?

SA: First of all, they need to know how to pronounce the name:

Source: PietschEscueta/YouTube

Secondly, they should know that the people in Abbottabad got over the Bin Laden incident after a couple of weeks, and moved on to more important things in their lives.

TJ: Have you ever felt worried about police or intelligence services or anyone else paying you a visit over the last four years?

SA: I have had nothing to worry about, as I was basically a witness rather than a participant.

If someone from the armed forces had been listening in to my tweets, they may have been able to take action. Similarly, if Osama Bin Laden had been following me, he may have had an early warning.

TJ: You’re a frequent commentator on current events in Pakistan – how have things changed since 2011?

SA: We’ve had the first democratic transfer of power since 2011, which is supposed to be a step in the right direction, but our problems remain the same.

In terms of security, I think the terrorism has actually decreased recently, partly due to the army’s ongoing operations against the terrorists.

But the incidents are still as horrible as before, like the APS children’s massacre, or the recent murder of Sabeen Mahmud.

Pakistan Bin Laden Locals in Abbottabad look out towards Bin Laden's compound, in the background. Source: AP/Press Association Images

TJ: What are some of the major myths and misunderstandings about Pakistan that you see in Western media?

SA:  There were a lot of small facts that the media got wrong during the Bin Laden reporting, probably to sensationalise the news, which is what most of my tweets in those days attempted to rectify.

Calling his residence a mansion, or saying that Abbottabad is right next to Islamabad are two major examples.

I think a common Pakistani is not much different from a common person from any other country, we just want to go about our daily lives.

We wouldn’t call all Americans rioters based on the recent Baltimore riots, for instance – but the stereotypes created by the news and TV shows aren’t exactly accurate.

Read: Twitter user inadvertently live-blogs deadly attack on Bin Laden>

Read: Osama bin Laden killed by US operation, Obama says>

About the author:

Dan MacGuill

Read next:


This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel