US Ambassador Mark Lippert was attacked during a lecture in Seoul by a man wielding a razor and screaming that the rival Koreas should be unified, South Korean police and media said.
TV images showed Lippert bleeding from his head and wrist, but his injuries weren’t immediately clear. He was taken to a hospital for treatment.
YTN TV reported that the man screamed “South and North Korea should be reunified” during the attack. The rival Koreas have been divided for decades along the world’s most heavily armed border. The US stations 28,500 troops in South Korea as a deterrent against North Korea, and some South Koreans see the US presence as a barrier toward a unified Korea.
YTN TV said Lippert’s injuries weren’t seen as life threatening. Police confirmed that Lippert was attacked and a suspect was detained and being questioned but didn’t have other details, including the type of weapon and the extent of Lippert’s injuries. YTN said a man only identified by his surname, Kim, was detained after the attack.
Lippert, 42, became ambassador last year and has been mostly popular during his time in Seoul. His wife gave birth there and the couple gave their son a Korean middle name.
Lippert was formerly the US Assistant Secretary Defense for Asian affairs.
The United States condemned the “act of violence” which saw the ambassador rushed to hospital where his condition was described as stable after two-and-a-half hours of surgery that included 80 stitches to a deep gash on his right cheek. Witnesses described how a man armed with a 25-centimetre (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 favour of reunifying the divided Korean peninsula, and later shouted his opposition to ongoing joint US-South Korean military exercises.
In a brief despatch, North Korea’s official KCNA news agency called the attack “just punishment” and a valid “expression of resistance” that reflected South Korean public opposition to the joint drills which went ahead over Pyongyang’s bitter protests.
Kim was a known maverick activist who had been handed a two-year suspended sentence in 2010 for throwing a rock at the then Japanese ambassador to Seoul.