A pardoned former North Korean agent who blew up a plane killing 115 people has told how she carried out the attack by planting an explosive Panasonic radio in the overhead locker and failed to commit suicide afterwards.
Kim Hyon Hui was one of two agents behind the bombing of Korean Air Flight 858 from Baghdad to Seoul on 29 November 1987.
The Boeing 707 was brought down over the Andaman Sea off the coast of Myanmar two weeks before the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul.
All of the passengers and crew, most of whom were South Korean, were killed in the attack ordered by Kim Jong-Il, the son of then-leader Kim Il-Sung.
Kim Hyon Hui (pictured in 2009) was one of two agents behind the bombing of Korean Air Flight 858 from Baghdad to Seoul on 29 November 1987
This image shows the wreckage of the plane arriving in South Korea to be investigated in 1990
Now, as North and South Korean athletes prepare to compete in the same team at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Kim has recalled her story to warn of the ever-present threat of North Korea.
‘They are using South Korea to overcome their difficulties. To achieve their goals they execute their own people, siblings, families – do not be fooled, North Korea has not changed at all,’ she told CNN.
Kim was selected aged 18 to join the North Korea secret service due to her ability to speak several languages. After rigorous training she was given her first assignment aged 25.
She and her co-agent Kim Seung Il travelled to Austria pretending to be a Japanese couple on holiday.
They collected the bomb – a Panasonic radio packed with chemicals – in Vienna and transported it to Baghdad airport.
The plan was almost foiled when security guards assessed the device before their flight.
One took out the batteries which the bomb needed to explode and said Kim couldn’t take them on board.
Kim recalled: ‘I was very nervous at that time. I picked up the batteries, put them back in the radio and complained to the officials. When I turned on the radio, sound came out so I told them they were making too much of a fuss.’
The guard then let her take the radio on. Kim said she had major doubts when boarding the plane: ‘For a moment, the thought of “these people will die” crossed my mind,’ she said.
But she told herself to stop being weak and continue the attack for the sake of her country.
Kim (right at a press conference in South Korea in 2009) was selected aged 18 to join the North Korea secret service due to her ability to speak several languages. After rigorous training she was given her first assignment aged 25
Kim collected the bomb – a Panasonic radio packed with chemicals – in Vienna and transported it to Baghdad airport (pictured)
Kim then planted the bomb in the overhead locker and got off the plane when it made a stopover in Abu Dhabi.
The bomb was detonated during the plane’s second leg to Bangkok as the two agents fled before being caught in Bahrain.
They had been told to kill themselves if they were caught using cyanide pills hidden in cigarettes they carried. Kim’s accomplice died but she survived.
She said: ‘We were taught that if an agent fails on a mission, he or she needs to commit suicide. We need to swallow the pill to protect the secret… we know very well that our families in the North would be harmed, so naturally we decided to swallow the pills. At the time I thought my 25-year-old life ends like this.’
Kim then faced trial in South Korea but was pardoned in 1990 by President Roh Tae-woo who felt she was brainwashed into the crime by North Korea.
She said when she found out about her pardon, she instantly thought how happy her mother must be that she was allowed to live.
But she knew she was lucky: ‘I was a big sinner. I should have died,’ said Kim.
Now, Kim works for South Korea’s National Intelligence Service and is writing her memoirs to warn the world of the threat of North Korea.
Kim faced trial in South Korea but was pardoned in 1990 by President Roh Tae-woo who felt she was brainwashed into the crime by North Korea. Pictured: Stock image of a Boeing 707