Before South Korea's Last Olympics, Mass Murder

Revisiting the 1987 bombing of Korean Air Flight 858
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 6, 2018 12:25 PM CST

(Newser) – With the Pyeongchang Olympics set to begin Friday, the Washington Post revisits the only other time South Korea hosted the games—and the mass murder that scarred the run-up to it. North Korea lobbied to co-host the 1988 games, which were held in Seoul. Having been turned down, it decided "to increase this sense of chaos and ultimately prevent the Olympic Games from taking place in Seoul." Or so says Kim Hyon-hui, the former North Korean spy who was tasked with carrying out a mission that she says was penned by Kim Jong Il: While posing as a Japanese woman accompanied by her father (actually, another spy), the two boarded a Korean Air flight in Baghdad, left a time bomb disguised as a small radio in the overhead bin, and deplaned in Abu Dhabi.

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The bomb exploded over the Andaman Sea on Nov. 29, 1987, reports CNN (which recounts how officials ultimately decided not to seize the radio's batteries, which would have rendered the bomb useless), killing the 115 people aboard Flight 858. She and her colleague were arrested in Bahrain and tried to end their lives using cyanide pills hidden in their cigarette filters; he died, she didn't. She eventually confessed and was in 1989 sentenced to death; South Korean President Roh Tae-woo pardoned her in 1990, saying she was manipulated by those who were truly culpable, the Kim family. Now 56, she lives a quiet and somewhat secretive life as a mother of two teens, believing she likely remains a target of the North. (Read more South Korea stories.)

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