Kim Hyon-hui

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This article is about the former North Korean agent. For the table tennis player, see Kim Hyon-hui (table tennis).
This is a Korean name; the family name is Kim.
Kim Hyon-hui
Hangul 김현희
Revised Romanization Gim Hyeonhui
McCune–Reischauer Kim Hyŏnhŭi

Kim Hyon-hui (Hangul: 김현희, Hanja: 金賢姬; born January 27, 1962), also known as Ok Hwa, is a former North Korean agent, responsible for the Korean Air Flight 858 bombing in 1987, which killed 115 people.[1][2] She was arrested in Bahrain following the bombing and extradited to South Korea. There she was sentenced to death but later pardoned.

North Korea denies that Kim was born in the North, and regards her entire biography to be a fabrication of the South. Some districts in Japan fund North Korean-run schools which teach that Kim was a South Korean agent.[3] According to Kim's testimony, she was taught Japanese in connection to her mission by Yaeko Taguchi, one of at least 13 Japanese abducted by North Korea.[4]

In recent years, Kim has publicly expressed regret about the bombing and she has provided information about the state of affairs in North Korea as well as the possible state of abductees.

Early life[edit]

Kim was born in Pyongyang, North Korea. Her father was a career diplomat and as a result, the family lived in Cuba for some time.[5] Kim excelled as a student and in after-school activities.

She was originally trained as an actress, and starred in North Korea's first Technicolor film.[6] In 1972, Kim was selected to present flowers to the senior South Korean delegate at the North-South talks in Pyongyang.[7] After graduating from high school, she initially enrolled at Kim II Sung University, before transferring to the Pyongyang Foreign Language College, where she studied Japanese.[8] However, she had barely begun her studies when she was recruited for work, because she was pretty, she believed.[9]

Espionage training[edit]

Soon after joining the North Korean spy agency, Kim was given a new name, Ok Hwa and sent to live in a compound outside of Pyongyang. There, Kim spent seven years learning spycraft. Her training included martial arts, physical fitness, and three years of Japanese.[10] Kim's Japanese instructor was Yaeko Taguchi, one of many Japanese kidnapped by North Korea. Later, Kim testified that Taguchi was known to her as Lee Eun-hye (李恩惠, 리은혜).[4] Additionally, students at this facility were shown propaganda films. At the end of her training, Kim was rigorously tested. Part of her final exam required her to infiltrate and memorize a document from a mock embassy.[11]

She was trained in Macau to learn Cantonese so that they would be able to pose as Chinese when sent on overseas missions.[12] They were also trained to shop in supermarkets, use credit cards and visit discos - amenities that did not exist in their homeland.[13]

Kim was then allowed to travel through Europe with an older man, known to her as Kim Seung Il (金勝一). This was part of her extensive preparation to complete a mission that was of great importance to the ruling Kim family.[13] They flew first from Pyongyang to Moscow, from where they travelled to Budapest, where they were given fake Japanese passports and began posing a father and daughter touring Europe together. Then they flew to Baghdad to prepare for the airplane bombing.[10]

Korean Air Flight 858[edit]

Main article: Korean Air Flight 858

In 1987, Kim was given an assignment to blow up KAL 858. She was told that the order came directly from Kim Il-sung, handwritten.[14] She was told that if she were successful, she would be able to return and live with her family and would not have to work as an agent afterward. She was once again paired with Kim Seung Il who was recovering from a stomach operation.

She was traveling with a fake Japanese passport under the name of Mayumi Hachiya (蜂谷 真由美 Hachiya Mayumi?) along with Kim Seung Il, who posed as her father and used the name Shinichi Hachiya (蜂谷 真一 Hachiya Shin'ichi?). The two traveled through Europe and eventually met other North Korean agents in Budapest who provided them with the materials to complete their mission. Once they had left the bomb behind (hidden in a radio device) in a luggage rack of KAL 858, Kim Hyon Hui and Kim Seung Il disembarked in Abu Dhabi and traveled to Bahrain. The two terrorists were apprehended in Bahrain after investigators discovered that their passports were fake.[8] Kim Seung Il bit a cyanide pill that was hidden in a cigarette and died. Kim Hyun Hui unsuccessfully attempted to do the same, but a Bahraini policewoman snatched the cigarette out of her mouth just as she started to ingest the poison.[1] She was hospitalized and then later interrogated.

After Bahrain was convinced she was actually a North Korean, she was flown to Seoul, South Korea under heavy guard, bound and gagged.[15][16] At first, she insisted that her name was Pai Chui Hui, an orphan from northern China who had met an elderly Japanese man with whom she was traveling. She denied any sexual involvement with her partner Kim Seung Il. However, the fact that the only form of Chinese that she spoke, Cantonese, is a southern Chinese dialect, was inconsistent with her claimed northern Chinese origin.[17]

According to testimony at a United Nations Security Council meeting, Kim was taken on several occasions to see the prosperity of Seoul outside of her prison cell. The prison authorities also showed her TV shows and news reports showing the affluent lifestyle of South Koreans. She had been taught that the South was a corruption-riddled fiefdom of the United States and that poverty was widespread.[16]

After eight days, Kim broke down, admitted that she was in fact a North Korean and confessed the details of her role in the bombing of Flight 858, as well as Kim Il-sung's personal involvement in the scheme.


Kim's life was the inspiration for the 1990 film Mayumi, directed by Shin Sang-ok.[18] Like Kim's teacher, Shin was also a kidnap victim.[19]

For her role in the bombing of KAL 858, Kim was sentenced to death in March 1989. However, South Korean president Roh Tae-woo pardoned her later that year, saying that Kim was merely a brainwashed victim of the real culprit, the North Korean government. She later wrote an autobiography entitled The Tears of My Soul and donated the proceeds to the families of the victims of Flight 858.[20]

In an interview with Washington Post correspondent Don Oberdorfer, Kim said that she'd been led to believe the bombing was necessary to aid the cause of reuniting the peninsula. However, the sight of Seoul's prosperity made her realize she'd "committed the crime of killing compatriots."[6]

Publishers Weekly, in its 1992 review of the book Shoot the Women First by Eileen MacDonald, described Kim as "robot-like" and "wholly submissive to male authority".[21]

In December 1997, Kim married a former South Korean intelligence agent who also served as her bodyguard, with whom she has two children.[22]

In March 2009, when meeting family members of Yaeko Taguchi, she mentioned that Taguchi may still be alive, and in connection with this she visited Japan in July 2010.[4] After the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, she donated 1 million yen ($15,600) to the victims, out of gratitude for the preferential treatment she had received in Japan during her previous visit.[23]

She was also featured by a Japanese television documentary that dramatized her life and revealed how Taguchi used to sing lullabies to her children, from whom she had been separated after being abducted.[24]

Kim currently lives in an undisclosed location and remains under constant protection for fear of reprisals from the North Korean government which has branded her a traitor.[25]

Kim has also offered analysis to news organizations about current affairs in North Korea. During the 2013 Korean crisis, Kim suggested on Australian television that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un was too young and inexperienced, was "struggling to gain complete control over the military and to win their loyalty." She also commented that he was "using the nuclear program as a bargaining chip for aid, to keep the public behind him."[26]


  1. ^ a b Kirby, Michael Donald; Biserko, Sonja; Darusman, Marzuki (7 February 2014). "Report of the detailed findings of the commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea - A/HRC/25/CRP.1". United Nations Human Rights Council: 288–296–297 (Paragraph 928). Archived from the original on Feb 27, 2014. In 1987, two DPRK agents travelling on Japanese passports and passing themselves off as Japanese nationals planted a bomb in an overhead luggage compartment on Korean Air Flight 858 from Bagdad via Abu Dhabi and Bangkok to Seoul causing its explosion over the Andaman Sea, killing all 115 people on board. The two agents were arrested at the airport of Bahrain after which they attempted suicide. The male agent died, but the female agent, Ms Kim Hyon-hui, survived and later confessed that she and her partner were DPRK nationals and received orders to blow up the airplane from Kim Jong-il in an effort to disrupt the presidential election and 1988 Seoul Olympics. 
  2. ^ "The North Korean spy who blew up a plane". BBC News. 22 April 2013. 
  3. ^ (Japanese) Government of Tokyo
  4. ^ a b c Japanese Abduction Victim Still Alive, Says KAL Bomber, Chosun Ilbo January 16, 2009
  5. ^ 115 Died in Nov. 29 Crash : N. Korea Agent Confesses, Says She Put Bomb on Jet, Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, January 15, 1988
  6. ^ a b The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History, Don Oberdorfer, Robert Carlin, Basic Books, 2013, page 145
  7. ^ Korea News Review, Volume 18, Issue 12, page 10, 1989
  8. ^ a b A Bomber Repents, People, December 13, 1993
  9. ^ Kim Hyon-hui: The North Korean Spy Who Came In From The Cold War, International Business Times, 23 April 2013
  10. ^ a b North Korean Super Spy, 7:30 Report, ABC, 10 April 2013
  11. ^ The Tears of My Soul, Kim Hyon Hui, William Morrow and Co., 1993, page 52
  12. ^ The Tears of My Soul, Kim Hyon Hui, William Morrow and Co., 1993, page 69
  13. ^ a b North Korea: Coming in from the Cold, Bertil Lintner, Yoon Suh-kyung, Far Eastern Economic Review, October 25, 2001
  14. ^ The Tears of My Soul, Kim Hyon Hui, William Morrow and Co., 1993, page 84
  15. ^ Shoot the Women First, Eileen MacDonald, Random House, 1991, page 35
  16. ^ a b United Nations Security Council Verbatim Report 2791. S/PV.2791 page 10. 16 February 1988. Retrieved 2007-11-16.
  17. ^ The Tears of My Soul, Kim Hyon Hui, William Morrow and Co., 1993, page 151
  18. ^ Mayumi: Virgin Terrorist (1990), IMDb
  19. ^ Kidnapped by North Korea - and forced to make films, BBC, 27 February 2015
  20. ^ The Tears of My Soul, Kim Hyon Hui, William Morrow and Co., 1993, page 3
  21. ^ Shoot the Women First, Publishers Weekly, August 31, 1992
  22. ^ "The North Korean spy who blew up a plane". BBC News. 22 April 2013. Retrieved 22 April 2013. 
  23. ^ Ex-N. Korean spy donates a million yen to Japan, The Korea Herald/Asia News Network, March 24, 2011
  24. ^
  25. ^ Secret Agent No 1, Journeyman Pictures, 2013
  26. ^ Kim Jong-un 'struggling': former North Korean spy, Sydney Morning-Herald, 10 April 2013


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