U.S. Ambassador to S. Korea Hospitalized After Attack in Seoul
U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert was assaulted by a knife-wielding man in central Seoul this morning in an attack that left him bleeding from the face. The ambassador’s injuries aren’t life-threatening, both local police and an Obama administration official said.
Television footage showed the ambassador, with blood on his face and hands, being hustled into a nearby police car. Organizers of the speaking event attended by Lippert identified the attacker as Kim Ki Jong and said he previously received a suspended two-year jail sentence for throwing a piece of concrete at the Japanese ambassador to South Korea in 2010.
Police are still investigating and aren’t ready to identify the attacker, the chief of Jongno Police Station Yun Myeong Seong said at a televised briefing. The attack occurred after Lippert had arrived at the Sejong Center for a speaking event. The assailant was sitting at the next table to Lippert and used a 25-centimeter (10-inch) fruit knife in the attack, Yun said.
Lippert, 42, was taken to Kangbuk Samsung Medical Center following the attack, according to a U.S. Embassy official and a hospital official, both of whom asked not to be identified and didn’t provide details of his condition. He was later transferred to Yonsei University’s Severance Hospital, footage broadcast on Yonhap News TV showed.
The ambassador had been due to give a speech entitled “Peace and Unification on Korean Peninsula and the Direction for Development of South Korea-U.S. Relations,” according to the website of the Seoul-based Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, which organized the lecture. The council is a non-profit organization promoting exchanges between the two Koreas. It has a counterpart in North Korea with the same name.
Lippert’s attacker was a member of the council who wasn’t invited to today’s event, Kim Young Man, a spokesman for the council, told reporters in comments broadcast on YTN. He had previously set himself on fire near the presidential Blue House office in 2007 to demand the renewal of an investigation into the 1988 rape of a member of his Urimadang or “Our Square” activist group, according to South Korea’s CBS News.
The group said in December that the U.S. should withdraw its forces from South Korea and give up its operational wartime command of South Korean troops.
The U.S. and South Korea earlier this week began annual military drills on the Korean peninsula that are opposed by North Korea and its sympathizers who say they’re a rehearsal for invasion. The U.S. and South Korea say the drills are defensive in nature.
“This is just going to drive that kind of post-9/11 security paranoia even further,” Robert Kelly, a professor of political science and international relations at Pusan National University in South Korea, said by phone. “South Korean and U.S relations have had lots of ups and downs and they’ve been much more significant than this. The real impact will be accessibility. For regular Koreans to meet the U.S. ambassador, it will probably be much harder and that really is the loss.”
Lippert, a longtime aide to U.S. President Barack Obama, became the ambassador to South Korea last year as Obama shifted his foreign policy and defense strategy to Asia. He’s been praised in the South Korean media for his openness to meeting local residents, and gave his son born in South Korea a Korean middle name, Sejun, according to his Twitter account.
Lippert had earlier worked on Asian and Pacific security issues at the Pentagon. He was White House National Security Council chief of staff at the beginning of the Obama presidency after earlier advising Obama on foreign policy. His career has alternated between active duty Navy service, including deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan, and government policy.
“We strongly condemn this act of violence,” U.S. State Department Deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said in an e-mailed statement. National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said President Obama had spoken to Lippert since the attack “to wish him the very best for a speedy recovery.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Sam Kim in Seoul at firstname.lastname@example.org; Rose Kim in Seoul at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Stuart Biggs at firstname.lastname@example.org