Sohaib Athar¹ is a 33 year-old IT Consultant born in Lahore and currently living in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Osama Bin Laden was killed two days ago.
First person to tweet live about Osama Bin Laden and the US military operation, he has been portrayed in various ways by the world media and has, so far, refused both money and fame from the big Western media.
But Sohaib wants people to get the story straight. His story. That’s the reason why he has decided to answer a few questions from his website to explain what has happened, clarify facts and to answer most of the questions he has been receiving via email and Twitter, from both journalists and web users.
Q: How far from Osama Bin Laden’s compound do you actually live?
Sohaib: “I was not Osama’s neighbour – my neighbour is a guy in the telecom industry (whose is nice enough to share his Wi-Fi connection with me – I am sure Osama wouldn’t have done that for me as a neighbour). The site of the (military) operation is about 2.5 kilometres from my home, which means there are at least a few dozen houses between my home and that place.”
Q: Did you see anything during the military operation?
Sohaib: “I did not see the operation, as some reports quote. I heard what was later revealed to be the start of the operation – I did proactively gather all the rumours and facts that I could from the Abbottabad locals who were online, and tweeted them. There is a big difference between ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ that the media should ideally be aware of.
Q: Did you see or hear anything of the fight?
Sohaib: “I did not witness the gunfights/shots. The gunshots were too far away from me to hear. I did hear a car/van rushing by very fast, before the helicopter stopped hovering above my neighbourhood, and then I heard the loud explosion – which prompted me to talk to friends in Abbottabad who were up and online. The locals said there were firing for at least a few minutes though.”
Q: How did it all start? Why did you tweet about it, in the first place?
Sohaib: “I usually work at night, and was working (on my laptop) when I heard the noisy helicopter hanging in the air, and tweeted about it.”
Q: Did anyone from the police, the army or ISI (Inter Services Intelligence, i.e. the Pakistani intelligence service) visit you?
Sohaib: “Government organisations have not contacted me yet, either to chat or to try to impose any restrictions on what I say or do. I hope that does not change anytime soon.”
Q: Why are you not making the most of your sudden fame to make big money with Western media interviews? I’m sure some magazines and newspapers would make you rich just to interview you!
Sohaib: “I was trying to avoid the media altogether, but I have tried to respond to the ones that managed to reach me. I did need to buy a new headset for online calls, so I am Rs. 500 in the negative. I do know that ‘monetisation’ is an option for me, and I do realise that I have been ‘missing out on some big bucks’ and not ‘milking the media for what it is worth’ – I just don’t have the energy or motivation to think in that direction. Or maybe I’m just plain stupid.”
Q. Why do you still talk to the media then?
Sohaib: “I want to talk to them because there is too much misreporting and many distorted facts are being reported and repeated all over the world – for example, Abbottabad is not in the outskirts of Islamabad, yet it has been called that all over the media, hence creating a mental link between the Pakistani capital city, and how Osama was living in Islamabad all along. I could point out all the incorrect facts, omissions, and creative word-twisting, but it would be wise if you don’t believe everything that everyone tells you about Pakistan and its people.”
Q: What do you do for a living?
Sohaib: “(I am) running a coffee shop. (Which started off as a small experiment)”
So, there goes Sohaib Athar, a 33-year-old IT consultant who could really do anything with this sudden fame. Will Sohaib become an icon, a film star, a celebrity? All three together? Is he going to use his popularity to talk about charities, or run for elections in Pakistan? No one knows.
What we know is that Sohaib Athar currently counts now more than 100,000 followers on Twitter, which is a lot for someone who was absolutely unknown a few hours ago…