The U.S. ambassador to South Korea was slashed by a man screaming demands for Korean unification Thursday morning in Seoul, and was hospitalized with wounds to his face and wrist.
Media images showed a stunned-looking Mark W. Lippert examining 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 attack occurred at a performing arts center in downtown Seoul where Lippert was about to give a lecture on the prospects for peace on the divided Korean peninsula.
The U.S. Embassy said Lippert was in stable condition after surgery at a Seoul hospital.
In a televised briefing, Chung Nam-sik of the Severance Hospital said 80 stitches were needed to close the facial wound, which was just over 4 inches long and just over 1 inch deep. He added the cut did not affect Lippert’s nerves or salivary gland.
Chung said the knife also penetrated through Lippert’s left arm and damaged the nerves connected to his pinkie and tendons connected to his thumb. Lippert will need to be treated at the hospital for the next three or four days and may experience sensory problems in his left hand for several months, Chung said.
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 touch on a deep political divide in South Korea over the still-fresh legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which is still technically ongoing because it ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty. Some South Koreans blame the presence of 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in the South as a deterrent to the North for the continuing split of the Korean Peninsula along the world’s most heavily armed border — a view North Korea’s propaganda machine regularly pushes in state media.
Witnesses said the attack happened suddenly. A knife-wielding man ran screaming up to Lippert as soup was being served for the breakfast meeting and began slashing, said Kim Young-man, spokesman for the group hosting the breakfast, the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation. A separate, unidentified witness told local media that as 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 Lippert later being rushed to a police car with a handkerchief pressed to his cheek. The suspect also shouted anti-war slogans after he was detained, police said, later adding that the knife was around 10 inches long.