SEOUL: The US ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert, was recovering from surgery on Thursday after being slashed on his face and arm in Seoul the same day by a blade-wielding activist opposed to ongoing US-Korean military drills.
The United States condemned the “act of violence” which left the ambassador bleeding profusely and saw him rushed to hospital where his condition was described as stable after 2-1/2 hours of treatment by plastic and orthopedic surgeons.
Witnesses described how a man armed with a 25-centimeter (10-inch) paring knife had lunged across a table and attacked Lippert at a breakfast function in central 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 favor of reunifying the divided Korean peninsula, and later shouted his opposition to joint US-S. Korea 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 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 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 in hospi-tal for three to four days un- der observation.
The US State Department condemned the “act of violence” and the White House said President Barack Obama had called the ambassador “to tell him that he and his wife Robyn are in his thoughts and prayers, and to wish him the very best for a speedy recovery.”
Lippert was part of Obama’s inner circle during the then senator’s rise to the White House.
He took on senior roles in national security and defense 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.
Park, who is currently on a tour of Gulf states, vowed a “thorough investigation,” while the foreign ministry said it would beef up security for foreign envoys.
Lack of security
A spokesman for the Korea Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, which hosted the breakfast function, apologized 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,” he added.
Kim runs a small activist group that pushes for reunification with North Korea and regularly organizes protests against Japanese territorial claims to a group of small islands controlled by South Korea.
As he was being taken from the police station for treatment on an injured ankle, Kim told reporters he had been planning the attack for 10 days.