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Kim Hyon-hui

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Kim Hyon-hui
Kim Hyon-hui in 2010
Born (1962-01-27) 27 January 1962 (age 62)
NationalityNorth Korean (defected)
Other namesKim Okhwa, Mayumi Hachiya
Known forBombing of Korean Air Flight 858
Notable workThe Tears of My Soul
Criminal statusPardoned
Conviction(s)Murder (115 counts)
Criminal penaltyDeath
Date29 November 1987
Korean name
Revised RomanizationGim Hyeonhui
McCune–ReischauerKim Hyŏnhŭi
Japanese cover name
Mayumi Hachiya
Kanji蜂谷 真由美

Kim Hyon-hui (Korean: 김현희, born 27 January 1962), also known as Okhwa, 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 falsely claimed 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,[when?] 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 Kaesong on 27 January 1962 but her family settled in the country's capital, Pyongyang.[5][6] Her father was a career diplomat and as a result, the family lived in Cuba for some time.[6] 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.[7] In 1972, Kim was selected to present flowers to the senior South Korean delegate at the north–south talks in Pyongyang.[8] After graduating from high school, she initially enrolled at Kim Il Sung University, before transferring to the Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies, where she studied Japanese.[9] However, she had barely begun her studies when she was recruited for work.[10]

Espionage training[edit]

Soon after joining the North Korean intelligence agency, Kim was given a new name, Ok Hwa, and sent to live in a compound outside of Pyongyang. The compound was mentioned by Kim as Keumsung Military College,[11] yet the name wasn't mentioned by anyone else before or since.[12] There, Kim spent seven years learning spycraft. Her training included martial arts, physical fitness, and three years of Japanese.[13] Kim's Japanese instructor was Yaeko Taguchi, one of many Japanese kidnapped by North Korea.[14] Later, Kim testified that Taguchi was known to her as Lee Un-hae (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 memorise a document from a mock embassy.[15]

She was sent to Macau to learn Cantonese so that she would be able to pose as Chinese when sent on overseas missions.[16] They were also trained to shop in supermarkets, use credit cards and visit discos: amenities that did not exist in their homeland.[17]

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.[17] They flew first from Pyongyang to Moscow, from where they travelled to Budapest, where they were given fake Japanese passports and began posing as a father and daughter touring Europe together. Then they flew to Baghdad to prepare for the airplane bombing.[13]

Korean Air Flight 858[edit]

In 1987, Kim was given an assignment to plant bombs on KAL 858. She was told that the order came directly from Kim Jong Il, and was handwritten.[18] 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 travelling 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 travelled through Europe and eventually met other North Korean agents in Belgrade 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 travelled to Bahrain.[19] The two terrorists were apprehended in Bahrain after investigators discovered that their passports were fake.[9] Kim Seung-il bit a cyanide pill that was hidden in a cigarette and died. Kim Hyon-hui attempted to do the same, but a Bahraini police officer snatched the cigarette out of her mouth before she could fully ingest the poison.[1] She was hospitalised and then later interrogated.[19]

After Bahrain was convinced she was actually a North Korean, she was flown to Seoul, South Korea under heavy guard, bound and gagged.[20][21] 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 travelling. 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.[22]

According to testimony at a United Nations Security Council meeting, Kim was taken on several occasions outside of her prison cell to see the prosperity of Seoul.[19] The prison authorities also showed her TV shows and news reports showing the affluent lifestyle of South Koreans and the freedom for South Koreans to speak dissent and criticise their government. In North Korea, she had been taught that the South was a corruption-riddled fiefdom of the United States and that poverty was widespread.[21]

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.[citation needed]


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 she was merely a brainwashed victim of the real culprit, the North Korean government. Although Kim was given an option to return to North Korea, she opted to stay in the South and defected.[23]

She later wrote an autobiography entitled The Tears of My Soul and donated the proceeds to the families of the victims of Flight 858,[24] writing the autobiography under the South Korean-style spelling of her name, Kim Hyun Hee. 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".[25]

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 realise she'd "committed the crime of killing compatriots."[7]

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 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan, she donated one million yen ($15,600) to the victims, out of gratitude for the preferential treatment she had received in Japan during her previous visit.[26]

She was also featured by a Japanese television documentary that dramatised her life and revealed how Taguchi used to sing lullabies to her children, from whom she had been separated after being abducted.[27]

Kim currently lives in an undisclosed location and remains under constant protection for fear of reprisals from the North Korean government.[28]

Kim has also offered analysis to news organisations 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 programme as a bargaining chip for aid, to keep the public behind him."[29]

In an interview with Mainichi Shinbun in February 2017, Kim argued that the assassination of Kim Jong-nam was a murder by hiring two Southeastern Asian girls, not by trained spies, and this is intended to make the victim lose their precaution.[30]

In an interview with BBC, Kim said that North Korea just pretended to be friendly on the issue of the 2018 Winter Olympics, and its priority still is the nuclear programme.[31]

Personal life[edit]

Kim married a former South Korean agent handling her case in 1997 and has two children.[19] She lives in an undisclosed location in South Korea.[2]

According to a BBC interview in 2013, her family left behind in North Korea was arrested and sent to a labour camp.[2]


  • Kim, Hyun Hee. The Tears of My Soul. William Morrow & Co, 1993, ISBN 978-0-688-12833-3

See also[edit]


  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 27 February 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. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. ^ a b c "The North Korean spy who blew up a plane". BBC News. 22 April 2013.
  3. ^ (in Japanese) Government of Tokyo Archived 2013-12-03 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ a b c Japanese Abduction Victim Still Alive, Says KAL Bomber Archived 2009-01-22 at the Wayback Machine, Chosun Ilbo 16 January 2009
  5. ^ The Tears of My Soul, Kim Hyon Hui, William Morrow and Co., 1993, pages 13-14
  6. ^ a b 115 Died in 29 Nov. Crash : N. Korea Agent Confesses, Says She Put Bomb on Jet, Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, 15 January 1988
  7. ^ a b The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History, Don Oberdorfer, Robert Carlin, Basic Books, 2013, page 145
  8. ^ Korea News Review, Volume 18, Issue 12, page 10, 1989
  9. ^ a b A Bomber Repents, People, 13 December 1993
  10. ^ Kim Hyon-hui: The North Korean Spy Who Came In From The Cold War, International Business Times, 23 April 2013
  11. ^ Kim, Hyun Hee; Kim, Hyŏn-hŭi (1993). "CHAPTER THREE". The Tears of My Soul. William Morrow and Company. ISBN 978-0-688-12833-3.
  12. ^ Malice, Michael (25 January 2014). Dear Reader: The Unauthorized Autobiography of Kim Jong Il. Michael Malice. p. 268. ISBN 978-1-4952-8325-3.
  13. ^ a b North Korean Super Spy, 7:30 Report, ABC, 10 April 2013
  14. ^ Wingfield-Hayes, Rupert (22 April 2013). "The North Korean spy who blew up a plane". BBC News. Retrieved 6 February 2018.
  15. ^ The Tears of My Soul, Kim Hyon Hui, William Morrow and Co., 1993, page 52
  16. ^ The Tears of My Soul, Kim Hyon Hui, William Morrow and Co., 1993, page 69
  17. ^ a b North Korea: Coming in from the Cold, Bertil Lintner, Yoon Suh-kyung, Far Eastern Economic Review, 25 October 2001
  18. ^ The Tears of My Soul, Kim Hyon Hui, William Morrow and Co., 1993, page 84
  19. ^ a b c d Harlan, Chico (5 February 2018). "She killed 115 people before the last Korean Olympics. Now she wonders: 'Can my sins be pardoned?'". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 6 February 2018.
  20. ^ Shoot the Women First, Eileen MacDonald, Random House, 1991, page 35
  21. ^ a b United Nations Security Council Verbatim Report 2791. S/PV.2791 page 10. 16 February 1988. Retrieved 2007-11-16.
  22. ^ The Tears of My Soul, Kim Hyon Hui, William Morrow and Co., 1993, page 151
  23. ^ Willacy, Mark (10 April 2013). "Exclusive: My life as a North Korean super spy".
  24. ^ The Tears of My Soul, Kim Hyon Hui, William Morrow and Co., 1993, page 3
  25. ^ Shoot the Women First, Publishers Weekly, 31 August 1992
  26. ^ Ex-N. Korean spy donates a million yen to Japan, The Korea Herald/Asia News Network, 24 March 2011
  27. ^ scramble749 (15 October 2010). "大韓航空機爆破事件~金賢姫を捕らえた男たち". Archived from the original on 14 December 2021. Retrieved 5 February 2018 – via YouTube.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  28. ^ Secret Agent No 1, Journeyman Pictures, 2013
  29. ^ Kim Jong-un 'struggling': former North Korean spy, Sydney Morning-Herald, 10 April 2013
  30. ^ "朝鲜前美女特工称杀害金正男两女子不像特工 应是受雇杀人". CRI. 18 February 2017. Archived from the original on 3 August 2020. Retrieved 17 December 2023.
  31. ^ "Winter Olympics: Friendly North Korea 'is fake', says former bomber". BBC. 5 February 2018. Retrieved 7 February 2018.

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