US envoy 'well' after knife attack
THE United States Ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert, was recovering from surgery yesterday after being slashed on his face and arm in Seoul on the same day by a blade-wielding activist opposed to ongoing US-South Korean military drills.
The US condemned the "act of violence" which left the ambassador bleeding profusely. He was rushed to hospital, where his condition was described as stable after 21/2 hours of treatment by plastic and orthopaedic surgeons.
Witnesses described how a man armed with a 25cm paring knife lunged across a table and attacked Mr Lippert at a breakfast function in Seoul.
The assailant, dressed in traditional Korean clothes and identified as Kim Ki Jong, 55, was immediately wrestled to the ground and taken into police custody.
During the assault, Kim screamed a slogan in favour of reunifying the divided Korean peninsula, and later shouted his opposition to joint US-South Korean military exercises that began on Monday. He was a known political activist who had been handed a two-year suspended sentence in 2010 for throwing a rock at the then Japanese ambassador to Seoul.
Video footage showed Mr Lippert, 42, being rushed from the breakfast event and bundled into a police car, one hand pressing a cloth to his bleeding right cheek, and his other hand and clothes smeared with blood.
One of the doctors who operated on the ambassador said that if the deep cut on his cheek had been just a little lower, it might have severed his carotid artery "which would have been life-threatening". The hospital said there was some damage to sensory nerves in his right hand which was successfully treated during the surgery. He was to remain under observation in hospital for three to four days.
"Doing well & in great spirits!" Mr Lippert tweeted, saying he and his family were "deeply moved" by messages of sympathy and support.
The US State Department condemned the "act of violence".
Mr Lippert was part of US President Barack 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.
South Korean President Park Geun Hye condemned the "intolerable" assault, saying it was tantamount to an attack on the South Korea-US military alliance.
A spokesman 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 his seat when the breakfast was about to start at the table," the spokesman said. "Other people tried to stop him, but the situation unfolded too quickly."
Kim runs a small activist group that pushes for reunification with North Korea, and regularly organises protests against Japanese territorial claims to a group of small islands controlled by South Korea. A Unification Ministry official told Agence France-Presse that Kim had visited North Korea at least six times between 2006 and 2007.
Writing on the group's blog on Tuesday, Kim had complained that the joint US-South Korea drills were blocking dialogue between North and South Korea, and preventing reunions for family members divided by the 1950-53 Korean War.
Meanwhile, North Korea yesterday described the knife attack on Mr Lippert as "just punishment" for the US decision to push ahead with joint military exercises with South Korea.
"Just punishment for US warmongers," ran the headline of a brief dispatch by the official KCNA news agency, which called the attack a valid "expression of resistance".