Her father was in the Department of Foreign Affairs and as a result, the family lived in Cuba for a time. Kim excelled as a student and after school activities. In college, she studied Japanese. This later proved to be a fateful decision for Kim and led to her selection as an agent for the North Korean Communist Party.
Once selected to become an agent for the Party, Kim was given a new name Ok Hwa and sent to live in a compound outside of Pyongyang. There, Kim was trained in martial arts, physical fitness, and Japanese for three years. Her language instructor was a Japanese woman using the Korean name Eun Hae who had been apparently kidnapped from Japan. Additionally, students at this facility were shown propaganda films and indoctrinated regarding North Korean communism. At the end of her training, Kim was rigorously tested. Part of her final exam required her to infiltrate and steal documents from a mock embassy.
Kim spent time in China studying Chinese and was allowed to travel through Europe with an older gentleman, known to her as Kim Sung Il. This was part of her extensive preparation to complete a mission that was of great importance to the ruling Kim family. Her younger brother had died and her sister, who had married, was now a widow.
Kim was given an assignment to blow up Korean Airlines 858 and was told that the order came directly from the "Dear Leader himself, Kim Jong-Il." Kim was told that the mission was very important and that its successful completion would result in the re-unification of Korea. Additionally, Kim was told that 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 Sung Il who was recovering from an operation to his stomach.
She was traveling with a false Japanese passport under the name of along with Kim Sung Il (金勝一), who posed as her father, . 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 Hyun Hui and Kim Sung Il disembarked in Abu Dhabi and traveled to Bahrain. The two agents were apprehended in Bahrain after investigators discovered that their passports were fake. Kim Sung Il bit a cyanide pill that was hidden in a cigarette and died. Kim Hyun Hui unsuccessfully attempted to do the same. She was hospitalized and then later interrogated.
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 Sung Il. Her accent also did not sound like she came from northern China. Kim Hyun Hui was then transferred to South Korean custody.
According to Mr. Choi's testimony at a United Nations Security Council meeting, Kim was taken to see the prosperity of Seoul outside of her prison cell. The testimony said that she had been taught in North Korea that American culture had supplanted the Korean culture in the South and that she had also been taught that the rich exploited the poor who lived in poverty. According to the testimony, what she saw outside of her prison cell made her realize that everything that she had been taught regarding South Korea was mere propaganda. The testimony stated that once she came to this realization, Kim Hyun Hui confessed the details of her role in the bombing of Flight 858.
For her role in the bombing of KAL 858, Kim Hyun Hui was sentenced to death in March 1989 but was later pardoned by South Korea's president, Roh Tae-woo. She later wrote her autobiography entitled "Tears of My Soul" and donated the proceeds to the families of the victims of Flight 858. Kim Hyun Hui lives in an undisclosed location and remains under constant protection for fear of reprisals, from either victims' families or the North Korean government which has branded her a traitor.
In December 1997, Kim married a former South Korean intelligence agent who also served as her bodyguard. A JoongAng Ilbo report said she was in Gyeongju at her husband's family home, cooking and preparing for the Lunar New Year, just like an ordinary housewife.
Kim is known to have changed her name after marriage and moved with her husband to Seoul after running a Japanese restaurant in Gyeongju.
She reportedly had difficulty in her marriage due to her guilt over the bombing, but she regained her composure after giving birth to a son.
The couple is rumored to have divorced.
Japan Kidnapings May Lead to N. Korean Spy Case; Women Abducted From Beaches 10 Years Ago May Have Helped Train Agents
Jan 20, 1988; Three young women who disappeared mysteriously from beaches 10 years ago may have been kidnaped to teach Japanese language and...