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The Terrorist Attack That Failed to Derail the 1988 Seoul Olympics

February 9, 2018 in History

By Becky Little

Wreckage of Korean Air flight 858. (Credit: Park Chang-gi/Yonhap via AP)

On November 29, 1987, two North Korean spies boarded a South Korean plane in Baghdad. The pair had used fake names and forged passports to pose as Japanese tourists. They’d also convinced security to let them keep the batteries in their carry-on “radio,” which they’d turned on to demonstrate to security that it was harmless.

Except it wasn’t. The working “radio” was also a battery-powered bomb.

The spies planted it in an overhead bin, then exited the plane at a layover in Abu Dhabi. Once Korean Air Flight 858 was back in the air, the bomb exploded and killed all 115 people on board, most of them from South Korea. The authorities tracked down the spies, who tried to commit suicide with cyanide cigarettes. One of them died; the other survived and was extradited to South Korea—the same country where the Olympics were set to begin in 10 months.

Even though the bombing occurred nearly a year before the Olympics, Sergey Radchenko, a professor of international relations at Cardiff University in Wales, says he has “no doubt” the attack “was an effort to sabotage the Games.” He explains that North Korea was interested in creating an “atmosphere of fear that would force the IOC to move the Games somewhere else,” or at least to discourage other countries, like its allies, from attending.

Wreckage of Korean Air flight 858. (Credit: Park Chang-gi/Yonhap via AP)

The CIA had been worrying about the danger North Korea posed to the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul long before the Korean Air bombing. However, the attack sparked new concerns in the intelligence agency.

“[The North Korean capital of] P’yongyang’s public threats against the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics and its sabotage of a South Korean airliner last November clearly point to North Korea as the greatest challenge to the security of the Games,” the CIA wrote on May 3, 1988, in a now declassified memo. “Seoul is taking extensive precautions to prevent violence and agent infiltrations, but international air links to South Korea remain vulnerable to sabotage or to serving as transportation for terrorists.”

Thirty years later, the possibility of a North Korean attack during the Olympics is still a concern. For the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, the country will deploy <a target=_blank …read more

Source: HISTORY

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