North Korea Blew Up an Airliner the Last Time the Olympics Came to Korea

    Sebastien Roblin

    Security, Asia

    Some history you need to know about. 

    Of course, North Korea is not the only state to destroy an airliner full of civilians the 1980s. In 1988, a U.S. cruiser shot down an Iranian airliner, killing 290, while Soviet fighters earlier shot down two South Korean airliners, on the second occasion killing 269. These incidents killed more people and reflect poorly on both countries, but were not intentional acts of terrorism. However, the bombing of Flight 858 more closely resembles the Lockerbie bombing perpetrated by Libyan agents in 1988. Both were deliberate and spiteful state-led projects to massacre civilians in pursuance of political objectives. It still sounds absurd to state the fact plainly: North Korea blew up an airliner to drive down attendance at an athletic event.

    Near midnight on November 28, 1987, a young woman and an older man board a 707 airliner on the tarmac of Baghdad International Airport. South Korea Flight 858 is bound for Seoul with layovers on Abu Dhabi and Bangkok. The couple seats itself on seats 7B and 7C, pausing to stuff a bag in the overhead compartment.

    Most of the 104 passengers are South Korean construction and oil workers returning home after years working on projects in Iraq. But the young lady’s passport indicates that she is a Japanese woman named Mayumi Hachiya, while her companion is Shinichi Hachiya, her father. Since November 12, the two have spent the last few weeks on a whirlwind tour of Moscow, Budapest, Vienna and Belgrade.

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    Flight 858 is heading back to a country on the brink of a dramatic transformation. In just two and a half weeks, the Republic of Korea will hold its first free and fair election after decades of authoritarian rule in which hundreds of political activists have been arrested or killed. And in three months, Seoul will host the 1988 Olympic games, a momentous event for a nation which just twenty-five years earlier numbered amongst the poorest in Asia. After a decades of Cold War boycotts, this Olympics finally promises to reunite most of the Eastern and Western teams.

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