The U.S. Ambassador to South Korea was attacked by a deranged man on Wednesday, and North Korea responds by calling the disturbing incident a “righteous punishment”. Ambassador Mark Lippert is recovering in a hospital in Seoul after receiving more than 80 stitches for a cut on his face from a 10-inch knife. Lippert also received slash wounds on the wrist. He is expected to remain in the hospital for three or four days.
In a statement, the U.S. State Department condemned the attack and praised Lippert. The incident occurred at a performing arts center in downtown Seoul as Lippert was getting ready to give a speech regarding prospects for peace on the war-weary Korean Peninsula.
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Statement by North Korea
Korean Central News Agency, the PR arm of the government of North Korea issued a statement praising the attack on the U.S. ambassador to Seoul, claiming the attack “reflects negative public opinion” in South Korea and is a well-deserved “righteous punishment” for the U.S..
The KCNA statement said the assailant gave “a knife-attack shower of justice” to a deserving ambassador Lippert.
Comments from witness
“When the man jumped on the ambassador, I stood up and jumped on the man and they both fell on the ground,” witness Jang Yoon Seok explained to CNN affiliate YTN. “Luckily I got on top of the man’s back and could press him to the floor. Then others came to hold him on the floor.”
More on attack on U.S. ambassador Mark Lippert
Seoul police identified the attacker as Kim Ki-Jong, a 55-year-old man with a long record of unstable behavior.
According to South Korean media, in 2010, Kim received a suspended two-year prison sentence for throwing a piece of concrete at the Japanese Ambassador to South Korea.
Ambassador Lippert was attending an event organized by the Korea Council For Reconciliation and Cooperation, and the man involved in the attack was a member of the council, according to Seoul police chief Yoon Myung-seon. The mission of the Korea Council is the peaceful reunification of the two Koreas. Kim was apparently one of the 181 members of the council invited to the Wednesday event.
Seoul law enforcement authorities noted the U.S. Embassy had not requested for security at the event. However, there were three police officers on duty at the entrance to the venue, and 15 more officers were on standby, police officials explained a news conference.
In a news conference several hours after the incident, Chung Nam-sik of the Severance Hospital said the 10-inch knife penetrated through Lippert’s left arm and injured the nerves connected to his pinkie finger and tendons connected to his thumb. Chung also noted that ambassador Lippert will need to remain at the hospital for the next three or four days and could experience problems with sensation in his left hand for some time.
President Obama personally called Lippert 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,” National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said late on Wednesday.
Lippert has also worked at the Department of Defense (from May 2012 until September 2014), according to his biography at the embassy website.
Attack politically motivated
Witnesses said the attacker was shouting, “No to war training” as he was attacking Lippert, the Yonhap news agency. The assailant was restrained almost immediately and later arrested. He was apparently yelling, “The South Korea-U.S. military drills must stop” as he was removed by police.
The comments of the deranged assailant highlight a major political divide in South Korea over how to handle the ongoing “war” North Korea. The two nations are still technically still at war as the fighting ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty. A number of South Koreans claim the presence of 28,500 U.S. troops is the real problem in the continuing split of the Korean Peninsula – a perspective that is constantly repeated by North Korea’s active propaganda machine.