WASHINGTON - A former North Korean agent who bombed a South Korean airliner in 1987, killing all 115 on board, welcomed U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to return North Korea to the list of state sponsor of terrorism, calling the U.S. move a “good thing.”
The bombing of Korean Airlines (KAL) Flight 858 near Myanmar prompted the U.S. to list North Korea as a terror sponsor for the first time in 1988.
In 2008, the administration of President George W. Bush removed the North from the list as part of a nuclear deal, in which Pyongyang agreed to disable its plutonium plant and allow some inspections.
Kim Hyon-hui, who now lives in South Korea, said before taking North Korea off the list, the U.S. should have sought the communist regime’s official apology for the tragic event.
Question: What is your take on the Trump administration’s designation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism?
Kim Hyon-hui: North Korea has always been a terrorist nation. Following the North’s bombing of Korean Airlines (KAL) Flight 858 in 1987, the country was designated a state sponsor of terrorism the next year by the (U.S. President George H.W.) Bush administration, but 20 years later, in 2008, it was taken off from the U.S. watch list. It was, from my view, a major mistake (on the part of the U.S.) to do so without receiving a formal apology from the North Korean regime for the bombing. And for that reason, North Korea still would not admit it and remains unapologetic, blatantly claiming to date that the bombing was the South’s self-fabricated plot and continuing its provocative actions — acts of terrorism and threats of nuclear devastation.
It is thus a good thing to return North Korea to the terrorism state sponsor list, which I believe would be effective, especially at this time when the international community has become more inclined to pressure the regime.
Q: This year marks the 30th anniversary of the KAL bombing incident. How have your past 30 years been?
Kim Hyon-hui: Over the past 30 years, I think I had many twists and turns. It breaks my heart when I think about the KAL bombing victims and their families, and I know nothing could staunch the deep wound that grew within them. So I live to pray for them. Of the 30 years, I spent the first 10 years devoting myself to telling others the truth of the incident. And (for the following 15 years) when left-leaning governments were in power, I was falsely accused of being fake and thereby lived under suppression. It was also during that time my whereabouts was revealed, and thereafter I lived moving from one place to another.
Q: Please tell us about the bombing, which played a huge role in U.S. designating North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1988.
Kim Hyon-hui: A year after I confessed to the bombing, North Korea was named a state sponsor of terrorism. This was clearly an act of terror on a passenger jet, unprecedented since the 1950-53 Korean War, that killed all 115 people aboard. That is why I think the U.S. designated the North as a terrorist state.
Q: Earlier this year, in February, Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean leader’s half brother, was allegedly assassinated at a Kuala Lumpur airport. Could you tell us similarities and differences between the 1987 bombing and the recent killing?
Kim Hyon-hui: In the case of the KAL bombing and other previous operations, well-trained North Korean agents carried out terrorist attacks themselves, and if caught, they committed suicides so as not to reveal North Korea had orchestrated them. But a different, more cunning, underhanded tactic was used in the alleged murder of Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half brother. Instead of getting North Korean agents’ hands dirty, they pulled the wires behind two women with different nationalities, who smeared Kim Jong Nam’s face with VX, a banned chemical weapon. This manifests North Korea’s intention not to leave any decisive evidence of its involvement as well as to readily pull back its foot when its missions fail.
Q: What triggered you to confess to the bombing incident after being apprehended in Bahrain and extradited to South Korea?
Kim Hyon-hui: After I came to South Korea, I realized everything taught in the North was a pure lie and everything I believed as truth was, in fact, false. And I was amazed by the level of freedom and prosperity enjoyed by South Korean people, who can think and talk without any restraint. In the days after my arrival in South Korea (as a captive), I tried to run away from the situation using only Japanese and Chinese, but I reached my limit as scientific truths began to come out. I came to repent my past action, which I realized would only fuel a fratricidal war, rather than contributing to the unification of the two Koreas. So even though I was afraid that my confession would put my family in the North at risk, I thought it was my duty as a human being to die after telling the truth.
Q: How is living in South Korea?
Kim Hyon-hui: I lived in North Korea for 26 years and in South Korea for 30 years. The life here can never be matched with that in North Korea. My personal view is that South Korea is a prosperous country, where people can lead a good life, but their sense of national security is weak even in the face of North Korea’s continued nuclear threats. I think they are very carefree. The young generations in South Korea don’t know about the KAL bombing incident because it’s been 30 years since it took place and it is not being taught at school. I think as much as I like democracy, there are also inefficient sides to it.
Q: What are your future plans?
Kim Hyon-hui: Because North Korea still hasn’t made an admission of the crime and issued an apology, South Korea, despite my criminal act, has pardoned me, the sole, living witness, to speak the truth about the KAL bombing incident and prevent North Korea’s future acts of terror. That, I think, is my mission going forward until there’s reunification.