Abbottabad: Sleepy garrison town that found itself at the centre of the story

Sohaib Athar seems very relaxed about his new-found fame. His phone is clogged with messages from the world's media, demanding that he tell his story. But the IT specialist, who runs Abbottabad's Coffity café with his wife, could scarcely be less troubled. He did notice when his name began trending across the world. But he shrugs when reminded that his Twitter following has soared from a few hundred followers to some 55,000 in less than 24 hours.



One of this sleepy garrison town's few social media enthusiasts, Mr Athar was jolted on to his keyboard by the sound of a mighty helicopter buzzing low over his home. In a tweet that has become one of the most read, he wrote: "Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1am". For the next half hour, he live-tweeted what he was hearing, without the faintest inkling that his messages were the first public record of Osama bin Laden's final moments.

One of his friends got an even clearer view. "There were two black gunship helicopters," says Zabiullah Khan, 20, with unflappable certainty. "I couldn't see them clearly in the night, but it was obvious that they weren't Pakistani. We don't have gunship helicopters."

It was the first time in memory Abbottabad has seen such action. Nestled between the wild North-west and the bustling Punjab, this town named after a British colonial officer has been immune to the wave of violence that has rocked much of the country.

The buzzing overhead went on for some five to six minutes, recalls Mr Athar, the now-famed tweeter. Then there was a loud explosion. "I heard the blast and everything shook in my room," he says, animating with his hands. He was certain it was an explosion. He had heard hauntingly similar sounds back in his native Lahore, and had fled to Abbottabad to escape them. Two of his friends, living 6km apart, were also rattled. The explosion was caused by one of the helicopter's crashing into the compound, apparently because of a mechanical fault. "We rushed out of the house immediately," says Muhammad Riaz, echoing the words of several residents across Abbottabad who hastened out on to the streets in panic. "When we came outside, I saw the helicopter on fire, there was smoke rising out of it." Mr Riaz says he lives "five minutes" from Bin Laden's lair.

For the most part, the compound in Bilal Town's Thanda Chuha went unnoticed. The area is a comfortable middle-class neighbourhood, populated by doctors, retired army officers and other professionals. It lies less than a kilometre from the military training academy at Kakul. It has a 12ft wall, bounding about an acre of land, on which lies a multi-storey house. Mr Riaz says a Pashtun man he calls "Akbar" owns the house. But like others, he says he never glimpsed Bin Laden.

On Monday morning, the neighbourhood was cordoned off by a heavy army presence. Only residents and army officers were allowed to pass. Journalists were kept at a distance.

One Der Spiegel journalist who forged his way through and took pictures of the shrouded wreckage was arrested for an hour and had his photographs deleted.

The residents are experiencing a mix of emotions. Mr Athar says that, for the most part, people are neither smiling nor saddened. A feeling of bewilderment courses through the town. Some demand proof.

"We heard rumours before, then he shows up in a video," says Azim Durrani, a university student. For Mr Athar, the irony is sadly striking. "I left Lahore because of the bombs, then I come to Abbottabad and find out that Bin Laden lived here."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key Stage 1

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key S...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher We have a fantastic special n...

Tradewind Recruitment: History Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an 11-18 all ability co-educat...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee