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US envoy to Seoul recovering from knife attack

March 5, 2015

The US ambassador to South Korea is recovering in the hospital after being attacked by a knife-wielding man in Seoul. The assailant apparently shouted pro-reunification slogans.

U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert (3rd L) leaves after he was attacked at a public forum in central Seoul March 5, 2015.
Image: Reuters/Yonhap

The US ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert, underwent treatment for two and a half hours by plastic and orthopedic surgeons in Seoul on Thursday, with his condition described as stable.

Lippert was attacked earlier in the day by a man, identified as 55-year-old Kim Ki-jong, at a breakfast function in the South Korean capital. Witnesses say Kim, wearing traditional Korean dress, lunged at Lippert across a table with a 25-centimeter (10 inch) long paring knife, slashing his face and hand.

News agency Yonhap TV showed men in suits wrestle Kim to the ground, while 42-year-old Lippert was rushed to hospital in a police car waiting outside the building.

Video footage shows the US envoy leaving the conference holding one hand to his right cheek, his clothes covered in blood.

At a televised briefing, Severance Hospital's Chung Nam-sik said it took 80 stitches to close the facial wound, which was 11 centimeters (4 inches) long and 3 centimeters (1 inch) deep.

Chung said if the wound to his cheek had been lower it may have severed his carotid artery, a potentially "life-threatening" injury.

The hospital also said it had treated damage done to sensory nerves in Lippert's hand.

Lippert was expected to stay in the hospital for the next three or four days.

He tweeted from his hospital bed that he was "doing well."

Attack was 'just punishment'

During the assault Kim shouted slogans in favor of reuniting North and South Korea. Later he proclaimed his opposition to military training activities being held by South Korean and US forces.

North Korean state media called the attack on Lippert "just punishment."

Rallies are already being organized over the incident.

Security personnel detain Kim Ki-jong, a member of a pro-Korean unification group who attacked the U.S. ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert in central Seoul.
Security personnel detain Kim Ki-jong after he attacked ambassador LippertImage: Reuters/Kim Ju-sung/Yonhap

Political activist Kim is well-known for his support for reunification, and visited the north six times between 2006 and 2007 alone, according to intelligence sources cited by Yonhap.

While being transported for treatment on his ankle, Kim told waiting media he had been planning the attack for 10 days.

Deeper divide

The annual military exercises began earlier this week, renewing tensions between the divided Koreas.

Almost 30,000 US troops are permanently stationed in South Korea, with some citizens attributing strained relations between the Koreas to their presence.

The assault highlights a deep divide in South Korea, between anti-US protesters arguing for stronger ties with the North, and pro-government activists who vehemently oppose reconciliation with Kim Jong-Un's military dictatorship.

'Intolerable' attack

The United States was quick to slam the "act of violence," with President Barack Obama calling the ambassador "to wish him the very best for a speedy recovery."

Meanwhile, South Korean President Park Geun-Hye called the incident "intolerable," saying it amounted to an attack on the military alliance between the US and South Korea.

Park, who is currently on a tour through the Middle East, called for a "thorough investigation" into the incident, while the foreign ministry promised to boost security for foreign envoys in the country.

Lippert has been the US ambassador to South Korea for less than a year, taking over the job in October last year.

an/kms (AFP, Reuters, AP)