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Casualties of War, Korean Air Flight 858

On November 29th, 1987, Korean Air Flight 858 exploded in flight. The explosion was caused by a bomb planted by North Korean agents. The flight itself carried 115 souls; all lost. Flight 858 was headed from Iraq to South Korea and almost all of the passengers were South Korean. The culprits, two North Korean agents, would fail in their bid to escape; being captured in Bahrain where they attempted to commit suicide, with only one succeeding. The survivor, Kim Hyon Hui, having been captured, would eventually admit to her crimes. She would be found guilty at trial and be sentenced to death; President Roh Tae-woo of South Korea would pardon her though deeming her mental state to have been the result of brain-washing in North Korea. Kim would later claim that the task of planting a bomb on Korean Air Flight 858 was given by Kim Jong-il himself; the result it was believed would be the destabilization of both the 1988 Olympic games in Seoul, and the 1988 South Korean elections.

Kim Hyon Hui’s partner in this heinous act, Kim Sung Il, traveled with her from Pyongyang to Moscow, and from their to Budapest where they obtained Japanese passports. From there they traveled, posing as father and daughter, and eventually arrived in Baghdad; where they boarded Korean Air Flight 858. On a stop-over in Abu Dhabi the explosives were left on the plane from which she and her partner left, and never again boarded. The pair began their escape afterwords; not knowing if the bomb went off. Kim Hyon Hui only learned of the success of the bombing after her capture. The North Korea government adamantly denied complicity in the bombing; as well as any knowledge of the bombers. As the years have passed numerous defectors have noted knowledge of the incident.

Kim Hyun Hui was arrested in Bahrain; after the passports she and Kim Sung Il were using were found to be fakes. It was this event that prompted their attempted suicide; resulting in Kim Sung Il’s death. During detention, she would claim to be an orphan from China traveling with a Japanese man she had met. Her story however fell through and the authorities in Bahrain saw her flown under guard to South Korea. While in South Korea, she was shown various aspects of South Korea reflecting it in contrast to what is portrayed in North Korea; this included car rides giving Kim Hyun Hui an opportunity to see South Korea first hand. She attempted to maintain the fabricated story her North Korean handlers had given her for her mission. Her exposure to the South would play a role in her confession. In 1989 she was found guilty and sentenced to death. Her sentence was pardoned though. Today Kim Hyon Hui is married and has two children. She lives with protection given the nature of her crimes and her past in North Korea. She is a Christian. She has on numerous occasions discussed her actions in the bombing as well as her life in North Korea.

The destruction of Korean Air Flight 858 along with the accompanying loss of life has remained one of the more prominent episodes in the long running war between North and South Korea; following the Armistice in 1951. North Korea sponsored this act; a fact which today is well documented. Kim Hyon Hui’s testimony being the most prominent piece of evidence against the North Korean regime.

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