The Korea Herald


U.S. envoy hurt in knife attack

Seoul moves to quell concerns of possible damage to alliance

By Korea Herald

Published : March 5, 2015 - 19:16

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U.S. Ambassador to Korea Mark Lippert was attacked by a knife-wielding leftist activist during a morning seminar in downtown Seoul Thursday, leaving the top U.S. envoy with an 11-cm wound and Seoul with the significant task of mending a dent in the alliance with Washington.

At around 7:40 a.m. the 55-year-old assailant, Kim Ki-jong, ran toward the ambassador with a 25-cm-long paring knife. The ambassador had been eating breakfast before a speech during the forum organized by the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation.

The bleeding diplomat was rushed to a nearby hospital for emergency treatment and then to another where he received surgery for the cut stretching from his right cheek to his chin and another injury on his left arm. He is in stable condition, hospital officials said.
U.S. Ambassador to Korea Mark Lippert hurries into a vehicle while pressing on his wounds after a knife attack at a seminar at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Seoul on Thursday morning. (Yonhap) U.S. Ambassador to Korea Mark Lippert hurries into a vehicle while pressing on his wounds after a knife attack at a seminar at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Seoul on Thursday morning. (Yonhap)

Kim was held down by the forum participants right after the attack and arrested. The assailant claimed his attack was aimed at “stopping a war on the Korean Peninsula” citing his opposition to the ongoing joint South Korean-U.S. military drill, which is strongly opposed by North Korea.

After his surgery, Lippert wrote on his Twitter account that he was “doing well and in good spirits” and that he was “deeply moved by the support” he had received.

“(I) will be back ASAP to advance U.S.-ROK (Republic of Korea) alliance!” he wrote.

The incident came after the public sentiment against the U.S. deteriorated following U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman’s recent remarks that suggested Seoul and Beijing were to blame for frayed relations with Japan over history issues.

This is the first time a U.S. ambassador to South Korea has been attacked. The incident occurred about four months after Lippert, a close confidant of President Barack Obama, assumed office at age 41 to become the youngest-ever American ambassador to Seoul.

Mindful of possible negative ramifications on its alliance with the U.S., Seoul expressed “shock and deep regrets” over the attack. It held an emergency meeting of vice ministers and decided to “sternly” punish any Seoul officials in charge of protecting the U.S. diplomat.

Cheong Wa Dae also convened a National Security Council meeting to discuss follow-up measures. Police vowed to thoroughly investigate the case and beefed up their security measures for U.S. Embassy staff and buildings.

Lippert’s surgery lasted for some 2 1/2 hours, and medical officials said that it was “successful.”

“The cut on his face was 11 cm long and 3 cm deep, and the cut on his arm was about 2 cm long and 2 cm deep. He received some 80 stitches on his face,” said Chung Nam-sik, head of the Yonsei University Health System at a news conference.

“He will need hospitalization for some three to four days. And we will need to watch him carefully, but our concerns for now are about the scars on his face and any aftereffect from the cuts on his wrist.”

The medical staff said that the scars and aftereffects were expected to almost disappear in one or two years.

During the seminar, Kim, the head of the leftist group Urimadang, was sitting at a table next to the head table where Lippert was preparing for a speech. Witnesses said the attacker abruptly approached the diplomat, pushed him onto the table and slashed him.

Right after his arrest, Kim shouted, “I carried out the terror attack. I have prepared to disseminate leaflets to oppose the (South Korea-U.S.) military exercise for a war.”

In the leaflets, he called for the “suspension of the exercise that blocks inter-Korean dialogue and Seoul’s retaking of wartime operational control (from Washington).”

Kim claimed his right ankle was broken when the police restrained him. He was carried away on a stretcher, and told reporters, “I oppose the military drills, a reason why the two Koreas can’t hold the reunions of separated families.”

He also said that he prepared for the attack for some 10 days, and that he had no accomplices or directives from others to carry out the attack. “I made a sacrifice myself so as to stop the Key Resolve exercise,” he said.

Issuing an apology to the nation, the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, the organizer of the morning seminar, said that its president Hong Sa-deok had tendered his resignation to take responsibility for the incident.

Officials of the forum said that Kim was not invited to the event, but they could not block him from entering because he expressed a strong wish to attend, and the organizers had no authority to block his entry.

It was not Kim’s first attack on a foreign diplomat. In 2010, he hurled blocks of concrete toward then-Japanese Ambassador Toshinori Shigeie while he was giving a lecture in Seoul. He was given a two-year jail term that was suspended for three years.

According to intelligence officials, Kim shifted his focus from anti-Japan activities to anti-U.S. campaigns after multiple visits to North Korea.

Viewing the attack as an act of terrorism, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency set up a special probe team consisting of nearly 80 investigators. They will focus on verifying Kim’s motives for the attack and whether he had any accomplices, officials said.

Police plan to search Kim’s house and seek an arrest warrant to detain him for a longer period on charges of attempted murder and possession of a lethal weapon, and will seek separate warrants to secure Kim’s telephone records and other personal communication data.

By Song Sang-ho (