SEOUL (Reuters/AFP) – The United States Ambassador to South Korea was slashed in the face by an unidentified assailant at a public forum in the capital early on Thursday, the police and a witness said.
The YTN news channel, citing witnesses and police sources, said a man with a blade concealed in his right hand attacked Mr Lippert as he was attending a breakfast function at the Sejong Cultural Institute in central Seoul.Video footage, in the immediate aftermath of the attack, showed the ambassador being rushed out of the building holding one hand to his bleeding right cheek, with his other hand smeared with blood.Mr Lippert, 42, was bundled into a police car and rushed to hospital, where a US embassy spokesman said he was in a “stable” condition. He was walking after the attack as he was taken to the hospital, the witness and news reports said.Security staff and police officers were seen jumping on the assailant, who was identified as 55-year-old Kim Ki Jong. Witnesses and the police said he used a small fruit knife in the attack.
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 the police.Kim was dressed in traditional Korean clothing and shouted that North and South Korea should be reunited just before he attacked Mr Lippert. He also shouted that he opposed “war exercises”, an apparent reference to annual joint US-South Korean military exercises that began this week.
“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 Mr Michael Lammbrau of the Arirang Institute think-tank told Reuters.Kim is a member of the pro-Korean unification group that hosted the event, according to the police. He also stages one-man protests against Japan over disputed islands known as Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese.
“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,” Mr Lammbrau said.Mr 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.”
The United States and South Korea launched annual joint military exercises this week, triggering a surge in tensions with North Korea.Nearly 30,000 US troops are permanently stationed in South Korea and the US would assume operational command in the event of an armed conflict with the North.Mr Lippert, a former US assistant secretary of defense for Asian affairs, took up his post in South Korea in October last year.
He is known for an open, informal style. He 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 apologised to the governments of the United States and South Korea.The police were at the venue as part of routine operations but not at the request of the US embassy or the organiser, according to a police official.
United States President Barack Obama has called Mr Lippert to wish him a speedy recovery, White House National Security Council spokesman Bernadette Meehan said on Wednesday.
“The President called US Ambassador to the Republic of Korea Mark Lippert to tell him that he and his wife Robyn are in his thoughts and prayers, and to wish him the very best for a speedy recovery,” Ms Meehan said.
The United States also strongly condemned the “act of violence”.“We can confirm that US Ambassador to the Republic of Korea Mark Lippert was assaulted Thursday morning in Seoul while giving a speech. We strongly condemn this act of violence,” State Department deputy spokesman Marie Harf said, adding his injuries were not life-threatening.
South Korean President Park Geun Hye said on Thursday that the attack was an “attack on the South Korea-US alliance”, her office quoted her as saying from the United Arab Emirates.