An Iraqi airline employee worked closely with the 9/11 hijackers. Neocons used him to justify the war in Iraq—not realizing that the CIA had attempted to recruit him as a turncoat, perhaps because they knew he was gay.

The Observer's Aram Roston tells the engrossing story of Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, "Shakir el Iraqi."

"He was tall as a mushroom, fat and gay," one source familiar with the case told The Observer, "and the idea was to exploit him as an agent against Al Qaeda."

Shakir was working as a greeter for Malaysian Airlines in 2000 when the CIA saw him accompany Khalid al-Mihdhar—a Yemen-born man who would later become a 9/11 hijacker—to "some kind of special terror summit." Mihdhar already had a U.S. visa in his Saudi passport, and the CIA knew it. Mihdhar's affiliations and visa would become a post-9/11 sticking point, because the CIA kept the FBI in the dark about him until mere weeks before 9/11. In hindsight, pursuing him could have disrupted 9/11. Roston argues that Mihdhar's omission may be tied to Shakir's recruitment. If the CIA thought they could bring Shakir in as an informant, they may have sat on the Mihdhar information to avoid "the bureau messing up the operation" by targeting Shakir's friend and thus spooking the gay jihadi into silence.

Years later, neocons would point to Shakir el Iraqi as a "direct link between Iraq and the al Qaeda operatives who planned 9/11."

Roston theorizes that Shakir's sexuality was part of the recruitment, since it left him open "to being flipped" under the threat of being exposed. It is debatable whether the CIA would blackmail a target into being a mole, and Roston notes Shakir isn't the first gay terrorist we've heard of: "Mohamed Atta, the 9/11 hijacker from Egypt, was also rumored to be gay." Atta's eyebrows always did look suspiciously well-groomed. [Observer] [Image via Getty]