THE US ambassador to South Korea was in stable condition after being slashed on the face and wrist by a man wielding a 10-inch knife and screaming that the rival Koreas should be unified, South Korean police and US officials said yesterday.
Images showed a stunned-looking Mark Lippert staring at his blood-covered left hand and holding his right hand over a cut on the right side of his face, his pink tie splattered with blood.
The US State Department condemned the attack, which happened at a performing arts centre in central Seoul as the ambassador was preparing for a lecture about prospects for peace on the divided Korean Peninsula, and said Mr Lippert’s injuries weren’t life threatening.
The US Embassy said he was in stable condition after surgery at a Seoul hospital.
YTN TV reported that the suspect, identified by police as 55-year-old Kim Ki-jong, screamed during the attack, “South and North Korea should be reunified.” The comments appear to reflect a bitter, lingering political division in South Korean society over the 1950-53 Korean War’s legacy and the continuing split of the Korean peninsula along the world’s most heavily fortified border.
A witness, Ahn Yang-ok, the head of the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Associations, said that Mr Lippert had just been seated for breakfast ahead of the lecture organised by the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation when a man ran toward the ambassador from a nearby table.
A separate, unidentified witness said that as Mr Lippert stood up for a handshake, the suspect wrestled the ambassador to the ground and slashed him with a knife.
Yonhap TV showed men in suits and ties piled on top of the attacker, who was dressed in a modern version of the traditional Korean hanbok, and Mr Lippert later being rushed to a police car with a blood-soaked handkerchief pressed to his cheek.
A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was still ongoing, said the suspect in 2010 threw a piece of concrete at the Japanese ambassador in Seoul.
South Korean media reported that Kim Ki-jong was later sentenced to a three-year suspended prison term over the attack. Kim, who was protesting against Japan’s claim to small disputed islands that are occupied by South Korea, missed the ambassador with the concrete and hit his secretary instead.
Kim also reportedly tried to set himself on fire with petrol while protesting in front of the presidential Blue House in October 2007. He was demanding an investigation into an alleged 1988 rape in Kim’s office, according to news reports.
South Korea’s foreign ministry released a statement condemning the attack and vowing a thorough investigation.
Mr Lippert, 42, became ambassador last October and has been a regular presence on social media and in speeches during his time in Seoul.
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