Sohaib Athar @reallyvirtual, Live-Tweeter of Bin Laden Raid, Answers Your Questions (Q&A)
In the last few days, Sohaib Athar (@reallyvirtual) has gone from an IT consultant living in Pakistan to the "the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it."
At 1 a.m. on Sunday in Abbottabad, Pakistan, he heard the noise of a helicopter and tweeted, "Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event)". He continued tweeting about a large explosion and what he then thought was a crashed Pakistani Army Helicopter.
Only later would he find out that he was live-tweeting the U.S. military raid that led to the death of Osama Bin Laden. Since his experience, he has received endless interview requests and questions leading him to tweet, "Bin Laden is dead. I didn't kill him. Please let me sleep now."
Today, Sohaib Athar is here to answer any questions you might have about Pakistan, Abbottabad, the power of social media, and his experience during the raid. If you want to ask Sohaib a question, leave a comment or tweet your question under the hashtag #reallyvirtualChat. Ask him anything!
I am done for the day. It is almost midnight here. If there are any more questions that the HP readers have, they can tweet them with a #q2rv and I will try to answer them on my blog when I get the time.
Have you tasted Ilyasi masjid pakoras and if so, do you think they are really worth all of the hype?
Many times. Actually I think it is their chutney that is pretty special.
When Umar Patek [was] arrested how did [the] town react?
I did not witness that event, I was probably in Lahore at that time.
Is weed growing in Abbottabad, Pakistan common?
Weed (wild strains) is VERY common in this part of Pakistan and grows naturally. A lot of people don’t know it as a drug, but ask the kids in Islamabad and they will tell you how foreigners roam around collecting it.
Do you feel the celebration of Osama's death went a little overboard in America? Do you think people should [not] celebrate the death of another, no matter the circumstances? Does it make Americans look uncouth and heartless?
I have not seen that particular footage yet, I do not have a TV and could not get the time to view a stream today. My personal opinion is that if they actually did celebrate, it helps them to bring closure to the hate they had kept inside them and to move on to better things.
Abbottabad will forever be known as "the place OBL was killed." What are other things you wish it would be known for?
Forever is a long time. I am sure it will be known for many more things besides OBL in the days to come.
Questions from @danlybarger @ilanabit and @billscow
What kind of coffee do you serve in your shop? any specialty coffees served at your shop? Are there muffins and scones as well? At your shop, how much for a 20oz. straight black coffee, in USD?
Coffity was supposed to be an experimental business and a place to work from, but is demanding more attention after 2 months. There are muffins most of the time. a 20oz americano would cost around 2$. I will post a more recent menu image on http://www.facebook.com/Coffity.Abbottabad whenever I can.
Could a western woman visit Pakistan and travel without a male escort or would this be frowned upon?
It depends on which part of Pakistan you go to, really. You can get into trouble if travelling alone in a few cities only, but not because you are a ‘western’ woman, only because you are a woman traveling alone. This is not much different from any other country.
Was this all a PR stunt by the Abbottabad Tourism Board to raise awareness?
If it was, they should be running the Pakistan Government next.
Has the US government contacted you or offered any support to you because of how sensitive the OBL matter is?
How are you handling the unexpected attention/"Fame" you have received recently? Are you enjoying it? Is it overwhelming?
With a lot of coffee. I am a bit overwhelmed, but turning off the phone helped a lot. I am not ‘enjoying’ it but feel that I need to speak up and share as much information as I can just to reduce the misinformation and disinformation.
Will you be creating a book about your experiences over the past couple of days and coming weeks?
If I feel I have a story to tell, I might consider it.
Question from ie:
A journalist in Abottabad a few minutes ago said some local people are not convinced it was Bin Laden who was killed. Do you hear local skepticism like this?
Yes, I heard that a lot yesterday. They want proof - an image of the dead body would be a good start to make them believe it.
Does the bin Laden compound have electrical power lines going in to it?
It has an electric pole next to it - as electricity in Abbottabad is not underground. I have a few pictures that I will upload - when I get the chance.
Are there any photos of the destroyed copter left behind?
Yes, there are a few available online. @kursed on twitter linked to a few.
Does the local government there have a good handle on who lives in each house? Any census being conducted in the past few years? do children go to school or mostly home-schooled?
The recent census rounds started a few months ago, the last census here was probably in 1998. Abbottabad used to have the highest rate of education in Pakistan, and is actually mainly an academic town with 5 or more medical colleges and a bunch of boarding schools with good reputation all over the country. Chances are, your cab driver has a masters degree here.
Can you describe the political situation that led to police crackdowns last year in Abbottabad?
The province was renamed ‘Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’ - ‘Pakhtunkhwa’ means ‘land of the Pakhtuns’. Not everyone here is a Pakhtun. The local (Hazarawals) population feared ethnic discrimination, corruption and nepotism. They wanted a subdivision of the province for better governance and to maintain their identity. A demonstration went bad, police was called in and people died. That is a very brief summary of the events
Any suggestions on how to tweet while witnessing a dramatic event?
I am not an expert, I have only done it once.
How does the average person in Pakistan really feel about the US? Do they know that most of us are NOT xenophobic colonialists? Due to the internet, my assumption would be that younger Pakistanis would like us much more than the older generations...Is that true in your experience?
To answer your last question first, yes, that is generally true. Generally, the only aspect of the Americans that is visible to the farmer and the laborer here is what makes headline news - and that certainly is not a pretty image with the ongoing war(s). Similarly, usually, the only aspect of people from this part of the world that an average american sees has to do with violence or terrorism. Stereotypes are created and generalizations are made due to this. I know Americans are mostly not xenophobic, chances are, the average person does not know that.
Any Synagogues nearby?
I am not aware of any.
Will the compound, if left standing, become a shrine to Osama Bin Laden? Can the authorities have it demolished?
I do not think that anyone in the local population ‘worships’ Osama for that to happen - but if it does, it could be a good trap.
Do they have gaybars there?
No. No bars here except Hookah bars, and people with all kinds of orientation can go there, no limitations.
Question from relay73 in the Huff Post comments:
What type of influence, if any, does Al-Qaeda have in your town, considering that a neighbor to the national military academy was the most wanted man/terrorist in the world?
If someone admits in public that he is an Al-Qaeda member, I am very sure he will not be free the next day - being a neighbor is not very relevant here.
Are you / your neighbors glad that the decision was made to do a surgical strike rather than a bombing? (I would think you are as a bombing / missile could have conceivably killed you or your neighbors had something gone wrong?
I was not that close to being killed by a bombing. Please read the FAQ I posted on that. The people dying in drone attacks as collateral damage in other parts of Pakistan are victims of the phenomenon you mentioned, though.
Are there also any atheists in the area, or are they totally shunned? What kind of attitudes do people have towards atheists?
There must be atheists around, but religion is not really discussed in the circle I talk to. There are also gays and metrosexuals in abundance. They are not shunned.
Could an American like myself visit Abbottabad and feel safe, or would I be a target?
Many Americans and europeans are living in Abbottabad already, mainly associated with NGOs, UN etc. for relief work. The locals here are mostly friendly and won’t really ‘target’ you because of being an american. Ask a few American journalists who are here right now, and they’ll be able to answer your question in a much better way.
How many languages do you speak?
Just Urdu and English, and can understand Punjabi (but don’t speak it). I am also trying to learn Pashto from an employee here, I heard bargaining in Pushto can cut the rates in half :-)
Has the Pakistani govt. said anything to you about your live-tweet of the raid?
Do you care that he was a mass murderer? if you knew he was there would you've spoken up?
I think I answered that in my FAQ document.
What is the national sentiment in Pakistan about killing of obl?
I don’t watch TV and haven’t had the chance to talk to my friends and relatives in the last two days, so I can not really say anything about the national sentiment - but the locals are mostly either happy, or too concerned about how to earn their living to care - it seems.
How do you feel about the american presence in your country and also how do you think your great country will come out of all of this?
The Americans have been here for a while now, so the question is how the Americans (their military presence) will come out of the country :)
When you said [on Twitter] that you hoped that wasn't the beginning of something "nasty," what are some of those things that you thought were a possibility?
One of the reasons that I moved to Abbottabad from Lahore was to reduce the probability of being affected by a terrorist bomb attack. In the last 4-5 years, I had heard more than one bombs going off - the Abbottabad city has never had a terrorist bombing incident, but the explosion sounded like the end of a peaceful spell - which would have been - ‘nasty’
@alexisshea asks on Twitter:
What is the city like now after the raid?
The city is not affected by the raid much, besides the sudden surge of the media, the locals are going about their lives as usual. The raid covered perhaps 0.001% of the city - life on the roads, markets and residential areas is as normal as it was before the raid.
Do you think the Pakistani military or the ISI knew of OBLs presence in your town?I just received this link in my twitter feed - sounds credible, but you never know...
Taking a food break. I will be back in a little bit.
A journalist with my hometown paper ran a story yesterday describing an incident in 2002 where he and some fellow journalists believed they had spotted bin Laden in Pakistan leaving a mosque and walking down the street. They now believe that was a real sighting. In hindsight, are any locals now speculating that they may have had a similar close brush with bin Laden, but dismissed it as mistaken identity? Did he really never leave the walls of that compound?
The locals that I talked to only saw a guy (not Osama) who was young and fair-colored, and met the locals courteously. The locals that I talked to thought that the guy did not let his family’s women out of the house as he practiced a strict pardah code - which is common in many Pakhtun communities. I did not hear any news of Osama sightings, which is probably the reason for the disbelief in the locals there.
Huff Post Front Page Editor @carlicita asks
Has your role in the events inspired you to pursue further blogging and/or political activism?I never had any plans to stop blogging, I just had/have a rather long block. Political activism without physical presence is hard, and with my current commitments, I can only be an ‘activist’ by writing and talking, not in action/person
johngfj60 asks via Huff Post comments
There appears to be a golf course near compound. Name? Is it 9 or 18 holes? Private or Public?
I am not a golf player, so maybe this would help: http://www.google.com/search?q=abbottabad+golf+course
What was the reaction of your neighbors when they finally understood the news? In addition to the surprise, were they feel a positive attitude toward the fact that he was gone? What was the general consensus? Also, just want to send my love to you from the USA :)
The neighbors were mostly happy when I saw their faces, perhaps, because many of the evacuated people (from the Swat operations) chose to settle in Abbottabad. This city has all types of people, so I can’t really tell you anything about the general consensus besides the attitude of the 50-60 people that I have interacted with in the last 2 days. And thanks :-)
@samostuff asks via Twitter
Is it strange to you that Usama Bin Laden had been living there in your community? It must be shocking and amazing.
He had to live somewhere - since the local population has a lot of people from Afghanistan (immigrants mostly) so Abbottabad was one of the many cities that he could have chosen to live in. Nothing shocking or amazing about it to me.
What people in Abbottabad thought about #OBL's mansion in the last 5 years? didn't it look creepy?
First of all, it was not a mansion - it was an unfinished house, despite covering a large area, the construction was quite normal and did not really stand out much. WHen I talked to the locals, they attributed the tall walls to the religious nature of the residents (the ones that were visible publicly)
What has surprised you about the use of social media following the OBL news?
To be honest, there was nothing surprising about the surge in social media usage as it was one of the most significant events of the century so far- the surge in my twitter followers was just a small after-effect.
What are some general thoughts in Pakistan of American's responses 2 the raid that our media is showing?
Most of the young population (which I have interacted with so far) is excited and happy. Some are angered at the invasion without the Pak Army’s help as that becomes violation of sovereignty.
Sohaib, on the map it looks like there is a church just a block or so away from the compound. Evere been? What can you tell us about it? Are there Christians in Abbottabad?
There are many christians in Abbottabad - and yes, there are more than one churches as well. The town was built by the British so there are also a lot of mission schools besides the churches. The christian community lives peacefully with the muslims (just in case you were wondering).
What stores carry your helicopter swatter?
It was made-to-order. Sorry.