According to the documents, four days after the Sept. 11 attacks, bin Laden visited a guesthouse in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province. He told the Arab fighters gathered there “to defend Afghanistan against the infidel invaders” and to “fight in the name of Allah.”
It was beginning of a peripatetic three months for bin Laden and Zawahiri. Traveling by car among several locations in Afghanistan, bin Laden handed out assignments to his followers, met with some of the Taliban leadership and delegated control of al-Qaeda to the group’s Shura Council, presumably because he feared being captured or killed as U.S. forces closed in.
At some point, bin Laden and Zawahiri used a secret guesthouse in or relatively near Kabul. The al-Qaeda leader welcomed a stream of visitors and issued a series of orders, including instructions to continue operations against Western targets. He dispersed his fighters from training camps and instructed women and children, including some of his wives, to flee to Pakistan.
In October, bin Laden met in Kabul with two Malaysians, Yazid Zubair and Bashir Lap — both of whom are now at Guantanamo Bay — and lectured them on history and religion. On the day that the U.S.-led coalition began bombing Afghanistan, bin Laden met in Kandahar with Taliban official Mullah Mansour. Bin Laden and Zawahiri also met that month with Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, who continues to lead a deadly insurgency against the United States and its allies in Afghanistan.
Bin Laden, accompanied by Zawahiri and a handful of close associates in his security detail, escaped to his cave complex in Tora Bora in November. Around Nov. 25, he was seen giving a speech to the leaders and fighters at the complex.
He told them to “remain strong in their commitment to fight, to obey the leaders, to help the Taliban, and that it was a grave mistake and taboo to leave before the fight was completed.”
According to the documents, bin Laden and his deputy escaped from Tora Bora in mid-December 2001. At the time, the al-Qaeda leader was apparently so strapped for cash that he borrowed $7,000 from one of his protectors — a sum he paid back within a year.
In December, al-Qaeda’s top lieutenants gathered in Zormat. They included Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks; Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged planner of the USS Cole attack; and Abu Faraj al-Libbi, a key facilitator for bin Laden.
The place was teeming with fighters who were awaiting for al-Qaeda to return their passports so they could flee across the border to Pakistan.
Mohammed later stated that while he and the others were in Zormat, they received a message from bin Laden in which he delegated control of al-Qaeda to the Shura Council. And the senior operatives began to plan new attacks.