SEOUL: South Korean police said Friday they were investigating any possible links the man behind a shocking knife attack on the US ambassador to Seoul may have had with North Korea.
Kim Ki-Jong, 55, faces possible attempted murder charges after slashing ambassador Mark Lippert with a paring knife in an assault that left the US envoy needing 80 stitches to a deep gash on his face.
The profile painted of Kim is that of a lone assailant with strong nationalist views who saw the United States as one of the main obstacles to the reunification of the divided Korean peninsula.
But it also emerged that he had visited North Korea more than half-a-dozen times between 2006-07, and had tried to erect a memorial to Kim Jong-Il in Seoul after the late North Korean leader’s death in 2011.
Any red flags such activities may have raised were only underlined by North Korea’s reaction to the attack, which the official KCNA news agency described as “just punishment” and a valid “expression of resistance” to ongoing US-South Korea joint military exercises.
“We are investigating his possible connection with North Korea,” Yoon Myung-Soon, the police chief of the central Seoul district where the attack took place, told reporters.
“There is no evidence yet, but we are trying to find out whether he has violated the national security law,” Yoon said.
Enacted in 1948 to protect the fledgling South Korean state from infiltration by the communist North, the law prohibits the spoken or written promotion of North Korean ideology, deeming any such activity to be “anti-state” and subject to up to seven years imprisonment.
Doctors at the hospital where Lippert underwent two-and-a-half hours surgery following the attack, said the envoy was recovering well and would have his stitches removed early next week.
There was no irreversible nerve damage to his face, although a cut to his left hand had damaged the nerves of his little finger that could take six months to repair.