Knife-wielding attacker slashes face of US ambassador in South Korea
SEOUL (Reuters) – US ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert was slashed in the face by a Korean nationalist but was not seriously hurt during an attack at a breakfast forum held in the capital on Thursday to discuss Korean reunification, police and witnesses said.
Lippert, 42, was bleeding from a facial wound but was walking after the attack as he was taken to the hospital. He was later reported to be in stable condition and officials in Washington said his injuries were not life-threatening.
The assailant was caught by police and identified as 55-year-old Kim Ki-jong. In 2010, Kim tried to attack the Japanese ambassador to Seoul by throwing a piece of concrete and was given a suspended jail term, according to police.
Witnesses and police said Kim used a small fruit knife in the attack, which took place inside a large government arts center across the street from the heavily guarded US embassy on Seoul’s main ceremonial thoroughfare.
“We strongly condemn this act of violence,” US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
US President Barack Obama quickly called Lippert to wish him a speedy recovery, a White House official said.
The assailant was dressed in traditional Korean clothing and shouted that North and South Korea should be reunited just before he attacked Lippert. He also shouted that he opposed “war exercises”, a reference to annual joint US-South Korean military exercises that began this week.
“I carried out an act of terror,” Kim shouted as he was pinned to the floor by event attendees.
Kim said while in police custody he had acted alone. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that Kim also said he was part of a group that had cut and burned a US flag on the embassy grounds in Seoul in 1985.
Kim is a member of the pro-Korean unification group that hosted the event, police said. He also stages one-man protests against Japan over disputed islands known as Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese.
“The guy comes in wearing traditional Korean brown and tan dress. He yells something, goes up to the ambassador and slashes him in the face,” witness Michael Lammbrau of the Arirang Institute think tank told Reuters.
‘WRESTLED TO THE GROUND’
Police were at the venue as part of routine operations but not at the request of the US embassy or the organizer, a police official said.
“People wrestled the guy to the ground, the ambassador was still in his chair. The ambassador fought him from his seat … There was a trail of blood behind him. He had about a seven inch-long gash on the right side of his face,” Lammbrau said.
Lammbrau said the man shouted about Korean independence while he was being restrained. “It sounded like he was anti-American, anti-imperialist, that kind of stuff.”
South Korean President Park Geun-hye, speaking in the United Arab Emirates, called it an “attack on the South Korea-US alliance.”
Known for his open, informal style, Lippert is active on Twitter and can often be seen walking his basset hound, Grigsby, in Seoul. His wife recently gave birth to a son, who was given a Korean middle name.
Thursday’s event was hosted by the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation. The group later issued a statement in which it condemned the attack and apologized to the governments of the United States and South Korea.
The annual US-South Korean military exercises routinely provoke an angry response fromNorth Korea, which denounces them as a preparation for war.
A South Korean defense ministry spokesman said the exercises, due to run for eight weeks, would continue as planned.
Lippert was a US Senate aide to Obama and served in the US Navy in Afghanistan andIraq, winning the Bronze Star. He was chief of staff for former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel before taking up his post in Seoul in November.