Blade-wielding man attacks US ambassador in Seoul
05 March 2015, 08:07
Seoul - The US ambassador to South Korea,
Mark Lippert, was slashed on his face and arm in Seoul on Thursday by a
blade-wielding assailant opposed to ongoing US-Korean military drills.
The United States condemned the "act
of violence" which left the ambassador bleeding profusely as he was rushed
to hospital, and said that President Barack Obama had spoken with him.
Witnesses described how a man with a blade
concealed in his right hand had lunged across a table at Lippert at a breakfast
function at the Sejong Cultural Institute in central Seoul.
Video footage showed the ambassador being
escorted out of the building holding one hand to his bleeding right cheek, and
his other hand smeared with blood with an apparent wound to the wrist.
Lippert, 42, was bundled into a police car
and rushed to hospital, where a US embassy spokesperson said he was in a
Police identified the attacker as Kim
Ki-Jong, 55, and said he was a left-wing nationalist with a previous conviction
for hurling a stone at the then Japanese ambassador to Seoul in 2010.
District police chief Yoon Myung-Soon said
Kim had slashed the ambassador with a 25cm paring knife.
"We have detained him and are
investigating the cause of the attack and other circumstances," he said.
The US State Department confirmed Lippert's
injuries were not life-threatening and said it "strongly condemned this
act of violence".
The White House said Obama had called
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".
Lippert was part of Obama's inner circle
during the then senator's rise to the White House.
He took on senior roles in national
security and defence after the 2008 presidential campaign, before becoming
ambassador to Seoul in October last year.
Lippert was treated for two hours and then
transferred to the prestigious Severance Hospital. Television footage showed
him walking into the facility with a bandage covering his lower face and neck.
South Korean President Park Geun-Hye
condemned the "intolerable" assault on the US envoy, saying it was
tantamount to an attack on the South Korea-US military alliance.
Park, who is currently on a tour of Gulf
states, vowed a "thorough investigation," while the foreign ministry
said it would beef up security for foreign envoys.
A spokesperson for the Korea Council for
Reconciliation and Cooperation, which hosted the breakfast function, apologised
for the lack of security at the event.
"This man suddenly jumped out of the
audience seat when the breakfast was about to start at the table," the
"Other people tried to stop him but
the situation unfolded too quickly," he added.
Angry with military drills
Security staff and police officers were
later seen tackling Kim, who was dressed in traditional Korean clothes and
shouting slogans against joint US-South Korea military exercises.
The annual military drills kicked off
earlier this week, triggering a surge in tensions with North Korea.
Nearly 30 000 US troops are permanently
stationed in South Korea and the United States would assume operational command
in the event of an armed conflict with the North.
Kim heads an organisation that regularly
organises protests against Japanese territorial claims to a group of small
islands controlled by South Korea.
He also has a blog on which he wrote
Tuesday of his opposition to the joint US-South Korea drills, saying they were
blocking the resumption of a dialogue between North and South Korea.
Lippert has proved a popular ambassador,
tweeting regularly about his life in the capital and setting up a
tongue-in-cheek Twitter account for his dog, Grigsby.
His wife recently gave birth in Seoul and
the couple gave their son a Korean middle name.
The attack carried echoes of a 2006 assault
on President Park Geun-Hye when she was a legislator.
A 50-year-old man slashed Park across the
face with a blade while she was out campaigning for a local election.
He was convicted of attempted murder and
jailed for 10 years.