WikiLeaks: al Qaeda watched towers burn

Each of us remembers where we were on September 11, 2001, but we never knew what the masterminds of al Qaeda's terrorist plot were doing that terrible day.

Now, we have an answer, as found in more than 700 documents from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, and just published by WikiLeaks.

As it turns out, while Americans watched in horror as the twin towers burned, al Qaeda's top leaders were watching, too. CBS News correspondent David Martin reports that Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the plot mastermind, was in Karachi, Pakistan, watching on television with Ramsi bin al Shib, the day-to-day coordinator of the operation.

"After the success of the attacks, the operatives prostrated themselves and gave thanks to Allah," one document says.

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Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, who engineered the bombing of the USS Cole, couldn't be there. He was in a Karachi hospital after having had his tonsils out. Nashiri may have been the most dedicated terrorist of all. "He reportedly received injections to promote impotence (rather than be distracted by women)," a document says.

The documents, based on the interrogation of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, say after 9/11, all senior operatives left Pakistan for Afghanistan to meet with Osama bin Laden, who had watched the attacks from Kandahar.

Bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri, spent the next couple of months moving about Afghanistan by car, finally taking refuge in the Tora Bora mountains. In mid-December 2001, the two disappeared across the border into Pakistan. The others were eventually captured, but not before Bin al Shib threatened to slit his own throat rather than be taken alive.

Of course, one should not believe everything a captured terrorist says. One sensational but unconfirmed claim found in the documents says al Qaeda had a nuclear bomb it would set off if Bin Laden were ever captured.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.