The news in 140 characters

In a dramatic tweet-by-tweet account, Sohaib Athar and Mohsin Shah gave their Twitter followers live coverage of the middle-of-the-night raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan, illustrating the rising importance - and limits - of online social networks.

While the pair are believed to have independently provided the first accounts of the raid, they and their followers had no idea that the attack was on the al Qaeda leader. They would find out from television news reports several hours later.

In a tweet later on Monday, Athar wrote, "Uh oh, now I'm the guy who live blogged the Osama raid without knowing it."

Athar and Shah began sending out tweets, or 140-character messages, shortly before 1am in Pakistan, documenting abnormal helicopter flybys, a 'copter crash and then an explosion.

"Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1am" is a rare occurrence, wrote Athar, whose Twitter biography says he lives in Abbottabad, the Pakistani city where the raid occurred.

At 1.09am, Athar wrote, "A huge window shaking bang here in Abbottabad Cantt. I hope it's not the start of something nasty."

At 1.43am, Shah, who identified himself as living in nearby Rawalpindi, wrote a message to Athar, asking, "Hello sir, any update on the blasts? What has really happened?"

Athar responded, saying "all silent after the blast, but a friend heard it 6 (kilometers) away too ... the helicopter is gone too."

Their tweets came before the news of bin Laden's death, which produced the highest sustained rate of tweets in Twitter's history, with an average of 5000 messages per second during President Barack Obama's announcement of bin Laden's death.

Shah didn't realise that bin Laden had been killed until hours later. "Oh. My. God. Just woke up after a long lazy sleep to the news that bin Laden was killed in the attack I was tweeting last night."

Their tweets generated global interest and turned them into instant if reluctant internet celebrities. One of Athar's last tweets Monday: "Bin Laden is dead. I didn't kill him. Please let me sleep now."



Add a Comment

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter