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
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all