'I murdered 115 people on orders of North Korea': Rogue state's top female spy behind horrific plane crash reveals truth behind 'juvenile' madman dictator threatening to nuke the West

  • Defector says 'inexperienced' Kim Jong-un is desperate to shore up power
  • Kim Hyun-hee planted a bomb on a civilian aircraft in 1987, killing 115
  • She was given death sentence by Seoul but now lives free in South Korea
  • U.S. and South Korea raise threat level to 'vital' as missile could be launched 'at any time'
  • Obama administration fears pariah state will not issue standard warning to commercial aviation and shipping
  • North Korea warns all foreigners to evacuate South Korea as peninsula edges closer to nuclear war
  • UN chief says situation is slipping out of control

By Simon Tomlinson, Sam Webb and Richard Shears

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Threats: Former North Korean spy Kim Hyun-Hee, who blew up a South Korean airliner in 1987, says Kim Jong Un is sabre-rattling in a bid to strengthen his tenuous grip on power

Threats: Former North Korean spy Kim Hyun-Hee, who blew up a South Korean airliner in 1987, says Kim Jong Un is sabre-rattling in a bid to strengthen his tenuous grip on power

North Korea's former top female spy, who blew up a civilian plane that killed 115 people, has spoken about the reasons behind the rogue nation's warmongering, as it emerged that its nuclear missile system is 'primed and ready to launch'.

Kim Hyun-hee, who tried to kill herself with poison after her capture by the South Koreans and later escaped the death sentence, spoke at a secret address in the South, surrounded by bodyguards.

Speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the 51-year-old former terrorist said she believes all the latest threats from Pyongyang are nothing more than attempts to shore up support for the new young leader, Kim Jong-un.

'Kim Jong-un is too young and too inexperienced,' she said. 'He's struggling to gain complete control over the military and to win their loyalty.

'That's why he's doing so many visits to military bases – to firm up support.' She said there were good reasons for the North threatening a thermo-nuclear war.

'North Korea is using its nuclear programme to keep its people in line and to push South Korea and the United States for concessions.'

She lives in fear that North Korean assassins will try to reach her and prevent her from providing inside information about the Stalinist state she once faithfully served.

In 1987 she was given orders from the then-leader Kim Jong-il to blow up flight KAL 858.

She and another agent, Kim Seung-il, who was posing as her father, travelled on the South Korean aircraft through Europe and on to Bahrain, disembarking after planting the plastic explosives bomb, hidden in a radio device, in a luggage rack.

The explosion later sent the plane spinning into the jungle near the Thai-Burma border, killing everyone on board.

Captured in Bahrain for possessing forged passports, the 'father' killed himself with a cyanide capsule but Kim, who was 25 at the time, was unsuccessful with her suicide attempt.

Given the death sentence by a South Korean court, she was later pardoned and embraced life in the south.

Now married with two children she lives each day in fear that spies from the North will kill her.

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Spy: Kim Hyun-Hee is now married to a South Korean man and has two children

Spy: Kim Hyun-Hee is now married to a South Korean man and has two children

Regarded by many South Koreans as the North's equivalent of Mata Hari – the Dutch exotic dancer who was executed by firing squad in France for spying for Germany during World War 1 – Kim said she was now living a life of regret.

Young, intelligent and beautiful, she was the perfect 'catch' for the North Korean regime looking for an agent they could train to pull off a spectacular 'hit' against their enemy, South Korea.

'I was taught that our leader, Kim Il-sung (the founder of the nation), was a God,' she told the programme.

'We were taught to put him before our own parents. We learned from early childhood to say "Thank you Great Leader for everything".

Infiltrator: She was plucked out of school after the authorities noted her intelligence and trained in the deadly arts of espionage

Infiltrator: She was plucked out of school after the authorities noted her intelligence and trained in the deadly arts of espionage

'And if you said the wrong thing, even if it was a slip of the tongue, you would end up in the Gulag.

'North Korea is not a State – it's a cult.'

The regime noticed Kim when she was a teenager because of her sharp intelligence and beauty. She was singled out to become a spy.

She was taught to speak perfect Japanese so she could operate in the outside world, but first, she said, she had to undergo military training.

'One day a black sedan showed up at my school. They were from the Central Party and I was told I had been chosen.

'I wasn't even allowed enough time to say goodbye to my friends – I was just told to pack.

'I was given one last night with my family.'

It was 1980 and she was sent to North Korea's elite spy training school in the remote mountains.

She was given a new name that she would operate under and taught martial arts and the use of weapons.

Finally, by 1987, she was ready to play a deadly role devised by the son of Great Leader – Kim Jong-il who was to became Dear Leader.

'In North Korea you needed Kim Jong-il's approval for the most minor things, let alone a spy mission. He personally ordered the operation to bomb the South Korean flight.'

Kim Jong-il's ultimate mission was to disrupt the 1988 Seoul Olympics. He believed that by blowing up a South Korean airliner athletes would be too scared to fly to Seoul.

The young female spy was teamed up with legendary North Korean agent Kim Seung-il and together they set out as father and daughter on the bombing mission.

After planting the bomb on Flight 858 they left the aircraft in Abu Dhabi and then made their way to Bahrain.

'We had to get out of Bahrain,' Kim told the ABC. 'But our next plane didn't leave for two days. I was so anxious, it was driving me crazy.'

A North Korean soldier passes by roadside propaganda depicting a North Korean soldier killing a U.S. soldier in Pyongyang, North Korea today. The poster reads in Korean

A North Korean man passes by roadside propaganda depicting a soldier killing a U.S. soldier in Pyongyang, North Korea today. The poster reads in Korean 'Life or Death Battle. Merciless Punishment to U.S. Imperialists and Puppet Traitors'

The plane blew up and the pair were arrested two days later – but it was because the authorities realised they were travelling on fake passports.

While they were being searched Kim Seung-il told his female companion it was time to commit suicide.

He instructed her to bite down on an ampoule of cyanide hidden in their cigarettes.

She recalled him telling her: 'What awaits us is interrogation and eventually death. I have lived a long time and am an old man. But you are so young. I am sorry.'

Said Kim: 'I knew when an operation failed, an agent had to kill themselves. So I bit down on the cyanide ampoule. As I did I remembered my mother in North Korea. Then I blacked out.'

At the ready: Japanese forces set up Patriot anti-missile defence systems in Tokyo today as the threat level over a North Korea missile launch was raised to 'vital'

At the ready: Japanese forces set up Patriot anti-missile defence systems in Tokyo today as the threat level over a North Korea missile launch was raised to 'vital'

Her 'father' died almost immediately, but she was revived and later flown to South Korea to stand trial.

During her interrogation she was driven through Seoul and she realised that everything she had been told about the 'evil' place by the North was nothing but a lie.

'I listened to how the agents around me spoke so freely. This contradicted everything I'd been told in North Korea. I realised then I'd taken innocent lives and I expected to be given the death sentence.'

She was sentenced to death but was later pardoned after the government decided she had been brainwashed by the North.

'I deserved the death penalty for what I did, but I believe my life was spared because I was the only witness to this terror perpetrated by North Korea,' she told the ABC.

'As the only witness, it is my destiny to testify about the truth.'

To this day, she said, she has no idea what happened to her family – but she says she must not hide the truth from the family members of those who died in the plane bombing.

Primed: Japan mobilised its tropps as it was claimed by U.S. and South Korean sources that at least one previously untested missile with a 3,000km (2,000-mile) range is fuelled and ready for launch

Primed: Japan mobilised its tropps as it was claimed by U.S. and South Korean sources that at least one previously untested missile with a 3,000km (2,000-mile) range is fuelled and ready for launch

Her comments came as South Korea raised its alert levels to 'vital' today, as UN chief Ban Ki-moon warned the Korean peninsula may be slipping out of control.

The U.S. and South Korea believe dictator Kim Jong Un may test fire a nuclear-capable missile with a 3,000km (2,000-mile) range at any time and without issuing a standard notice to commercial aviation and maritime shipping so they can avoid the area.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se told parliament the launch could take place 'anytime from now on' and warned Pyongyang it could trigger a fresh round of UN sanctions, according to the Herald Sun.

The Obama administration believes North Korea will likely test one of its mobile ballistic missiles imminently after the most recent intelligence showed Pyongyang had probably completed its launch preparations.

South Korean soldiers keep watch on North Korea through binoculars from an observation post near the border village of Panmunjom

South Korean soldiers keep watch on North Korea through binoculars from an observation post near the border village of Panmunjom

But a U.S. official said there was no guarantee North Korea would give any warning of its launch to civilians.

'We hope they issue a notification, but at this point we don't expect it. We are working on the assumption they won't,' the unnamed official told CNN.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said during a visit to Rome that he had spoken to the Chinese leadership to try to calm tensions, and would discuss the issue with US President Barack Obama tomorrow.

'The current level of tension is very dangerous, a small incident caused by miscalculation or misjudgement may create an uncontrollable situation,' Ban said.

Business as usual: A North Korean man drives a small tractor in central Pyongyang

Business as usual: A North Korean man drives a small tractor in central Pyongyang

In anticipation, the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces have raised their alert level to Watchcon 2 – a vital threat – to increase surveillance monitoring, Yonhap news agency quoted a senior military official as saying.

Watchcon 4 is in effect during normal peacetime, while Watchcon 3 reflects indications of an important threat. Watchcon 1 is used in wartime.

Yesterday, North Korea warned all foreigners to evacuate South Korea yesterday because the two countries are on the verge of a nuclear war – as Japan set up a huge new anti-missile system in Tokyo.

In a further sign of rising nuclear tensions, a key border crossing between North Korea and China has been closed to tourist groups, a Chinese official said today.

Leave, now: Foreign tourists pose for a picture in Seoul. North Korea urged foreigners in South Korea to evacuate

Leave, now: Foreign tourists pose for a picture in Seoul. North Korea urged foreigners in South Korea to evacuate

An official at the Dandong Border Office, who declined to give his name, told AFP: 'Travel agencies are not allowed to take tourist groups to go there, since the North Korean government is now asking foreign people to leave. As far as I know, business people can enter and leave North Korea freely.'

A woman surnamed Wu at a travel agency in the town said municipal authorities told it not to take tours into North Korea.

'It was absolutely North Korea's (decision) because the travel bureau told us "North Korea is now no longer allowing tour groups to be taken in",' the woman told 9 News World.

'WE'RE STILL GOING': TOUR OPERATORS SAY NORTH KOREA TRIPS WILL PROCEED AS PLANNED

Western tour operators 'Koryo Tours' and 'Young Pioneer Tours' both said today that there were no plans to cancel any of their forthcoming tours, making it unclear if the suspension applied to everyone.

Meanwhile the United Kingdom's Foreign and Commonwealth Office continues to say that travel to North Korea remains unaffected by the latest tensions.

It said: 'Our overall assessment is that there is currently no immediate increased risk or danger to those living in or travelling to the DPRK as a result of these statements.'

Dandong-based Explore North Korea published a notification last night telling customers that all tours to the DPRK would be cancelled until further notice.

Following a nearly two hour long meeting with North Korean tour officials, the Chinese company, which normally brings western visitors to North Korea, posted an advisory adding that tours would only be resumed once official confirmation was provided by North Korea, reports NK News.

Leonid Petrov, a researcher at the Australian National University in Canberra, told NK News that the move showed a 'logical' and 'consistent' approach to escalating a feeling of crisis on the peninsula.

He said: 'War zones are incompatible with joint industrial parks, travel groups or even with foreign embassies. Pyongyang wants to convince the world that Korea will soon be engulfed in the flames of nuclear inferno.

'The scary truth is that this can really happen regardless of who makes the first shot. China is North Korea's sole major ally and the provider of the vast majority of its trade and aid, with most of the business passing through Dandong.'

The rising tensions come just days before the April 15 birthday of North Korea's founder, historically a time when it seeks to draw the world's attention with dramatic displays of military power.

Mobilising: South Korean soldiers ride a military truck on the road leading to North Korea at a military checkpoint in the border city of Paju

Mobilising: South Korean soldiers ride a military truck on the road leading to North Korea at a military checkpoint in the border city of Paju

Threat level raised: A South Korean military vehicle drives past barricades on the road leading to North Korea, which is expecting to launch a missile 'at any time'

Threat level raised: A South Korean military vehicle drives past barricades on the road leading to North Korea, which is expecting to launch a missile 'at any time'

On standby: South Korean soldiers ride a military truck on the road leading to North Korea as the co-ordinated military surveillance status was upgraded

On standby: South Korean soldiers ride a military truck on the road leading to North Korea as the co-ordinated military surveillance status was upgraded

In Pyongyang, however, the focus today was less on preparing for war and more on beautifying the city ahead of the nation's biggest holiday.

Soldiers hammered away on construction projects, gardeners got down on their knees to plant flowers and trees, and students marched off to school, belying a sense that tensions on the Korean Peninsula have reached their highest point since the Korean War ended nearly 60 years ago.

Last year, the days surrounding the centennial of the birth of Kim Il Sung, grandfather of the current ruler, was marked by parades of tanks, goose-stepping soldiers and missiles, as well as the failed launch of a satellite-carrying rocket widely believed by the U.S. and its allies in the West to be a test of ballistic missile capabilities.

A subsequent test in December went off successfully, and that was followed by the country's third underground nuclear test on Feb. 12 this year, a step toward mastering the technology for mounting an atomic bomb on a missile.

The resulting U.N. sanctions have been met with an unending string of threats and provocations from the North, raising tensions on the peninsula to their highest point since the end of the Korean War in 1953, according to some experts.

The moves are seen as an attempt by North Korea to scare foreigners into pressing their governments to pressure Washington and Seoul to avert a conflict, and boost the militaristic credentials of its young and relatively untested leader, Kim Jong Un.

NORTH KOREA CYBER ATTACK 'SHUT DOWN 32,000 COMPUTERS IN THE SOUTH'

North Korean government agents were behind a March cyber attack that shut down about 32,000 computers and servers at South Korean broadcasters and banks, an investigation has found.

An official at South Korea's internet security agency, Chun Kil-soo, told reporters Wednesday that the attack was similar to past North Korean hacking. He said investigators believe that six computers in North Korea were used to access South Korean servers using more than 1,000 IP addresses overseas. 

The accusation comes as tensions run high on the Korean Peninsula, with North Korea delivering increasingly belligerent rhetoric in anger over UN sanctions and US-South Korean military drills.

On Tuesday, the North said a nuclear war is imminent and recommended that foreigners in South Korea evacuate to safe places.

Pyongyang advised foreign embassies to consider evacuating their citizens by Wednesday, and warned tourists in South Korea to leave Seoul in case of an outbreak of war.

However, most diplomats and foreign residents appeared to be staying put.

In Seoul, the defense ministry official said the North appeared prepared to carry out a missile launch at any time. He spoke on condition of anonymity, saying he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.

He said Pyongyang's military is capable of conducting multiple missile launches involving Scud and medium-range Rodong missiles, as well as a missile transported to the east coast recently. He refused to say how Seoul obtained the information.

Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington yesterday that he concurred with an assessment by Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., calling the tension between North Korea and the West the worst since the end of the Korean War.

'The continued advancement of the North's nuclear and missile programs, its conventional force posture, and its willingness to resort to asymmetric actions as a tool of coercive diplomacy creates an environment marked by the potential for miscalculation,' Locklear told the panel.

He said the U.S. military and its allies would be ready if North Korea tries to strike.

Despite such tidings of war, the people of Pyongyang went about their daily lives.

Associated Press journalists in the North Korean capital saw soldiers wearing hard hats rumbling past in the back of a truck as they prepared for another day's work doing construction.

In recent years, military personnel have been pressed into helping build the many urban renewal projects that have been prioritised since Kim Jong Un came to power in December 2011.

Thousands of North Koreans dance in Pyongyang in celebration of their former leader Kim Jong-Il

Thousands of North Koreans dance in Pyongyang in celebration of their former leader Kim Jong-Il

The event came as Pyongyang warned foreigners to leave the South, saying the two Koreas are on the verge of civil war

Event came as Pyongyang warned foreigners to leave the South, saying two Koreas are on verge of civil war

North Korea has warned all foreigners to leave South Korea as Kim Jong-un's government continues to increase tensions on the Korean Peninsula

North Korea has warned all foreigners to leave South Korea as Kim Jong-un's government continues to increase tensions on the Korean Peninsula

In a sign they have been diverted away from preparing for conventional warfare, they are commonly referred to as 'soldier-builders' and are also called upon to help plant and harvest rice and other crops in a nation that suffers chronically from food shortages.

North Korea sporadically holds civil air raid drills during which citizens practice blacking out their windows and seeking shelter. But no such drills have been held in recent months, local residents said.

'I'm not at all worried. We have confidence in our young marshal' Kim Jong Un, a cleaning lady at the Koryo Hotel said as she made up a guest's bed. 'The rest of the world can just squawk all they want but we have confidence in his leadership.

North Korean children carrying brooms help tidy up the area around bronze statues of the late leaders

North Korean children carrying brooms help tidy up the area around bronze statues of the late leaders

'We are resolved to stay and defend him until the end,' she said. 'It may be hard for the rest of the world to understand, and those who are worried are welcome to leave,' she said in the typical nationalistic style that North Koreans use while talking to foreigners.

But there was no sign of an exodus of foreigners from Seoul or Pyongyang.

Britain and other governments with embassies in Pyongyang said they had no immediate plans to withdraw but would continue assessing the situation.

North Korea has been escalating tensions with the U.S. and South Korea, its wartime foes, for months

The tightened U.N. sanctions that followed the nuclear test drew the ire of North Korea, which accused Washington and Seoul of leading the campaign against it.

Annual U.S.-South Korean military drills south of the border have further incensed Pyongyang, which sees them as practice for an invasion.

Young North Korean workers and students climb stairs to the base of bronze statues of the late leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il during an event to pledge loyalty to the country in Pyongyang

Young North Korean workers and students climb stairs to the base of bronze statues of the late leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il during an event to pledge loyalty to the country in Pyongyang

Last week, Kim Jong Un enshrined the pursuit of nuclear weapons – which the North characterizes as a defense against the U.S. – as a national goal, along with improving the economy. North Korea also declared it would restart a mothballed nuclear complex.

Citing the tensions with Seoul, North Korea on Monday pulled more than 50,000 workers from the Kaesong industrial park, which combines South Korean technology and know-how with cheap North Korean labor.

It was the first time that production was stopped at the decade-old factory park, the only remaining symbol of economic co-operation between the Koreas.

Pyongyang also has moved to its eastern seaboard what is believed by U.S. and South Korean intelligence to be a mid-range missile capable of hitting targets in Japan, such as the U.S. military installations on that country's main island.

Another possibility is that Pyongyang would launch such a missile into the sea as a display of its military prowess.

Keeping watch: A North Korean patrol boat cruises the Yalu River after a key border crossing between North Korea and China was closed to tourist groups as nuclear tensions mounted Keeping watch: A North Korean patrol boat cruises the Yalu River after a key border crossing between North Korea and China was closed to tourist groups as nuclear tensions mounted

The United States and South Korea have raised their defense postures, as has Japan, which deployed PAC-3 missile interceptors in key locations around Tokyo. And Locklear said the U.S. military would be ready to strike back if provoked.

One historian, James Person, noted that it isn't the first time North Korea has warned foreign embassies to prepare for a U.S. attack.

He said that in 1968, following North Korea's seizure of an American ship, the USS Pueblo, Pyongyang persistently advised foreign diplomats to prepare for a U.S. counterattack.

Cables from the Romanian mission in Pyongyang showed embassies were instructed to build anti-air bunkers 'to protect foreigners against air attacks,' he said.

The cables were obtained and posted online by the Wilson Center's North Korea International Documentation Project.

Person called it one of North Korea's first forays into what he dubs 'military adventurism.'

'In 1968, there was some concern there would be an attack, but (the North Koreans) certainly were building it up to be more than it was in hopes of getting more assistance from their allies at the time,' Person said by phone from Alexandria, Virginia.

'I think much of it was hot air then. Today, I think again it's more hot air,' he said. 'The idea is to scare people into pressuring the United States to return to negotiations with North Korea. That's the bottom line.'

South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who has sought to re-engage North Korea with dialogue and humanitarian aid since taking office in February, expressed exasperation yesterday with what she called the 'endless vicious cycle' of Seoul answering Pyongyang's hostile behavior with compromise, only to get more hostility.