America's Ambassador to Seoul Mark Lippert, after being slashed by
a knife-wielding pro-unification activist. While officials on both sides
insist there has been no damage to relations, the events leading up to
the assault suggest the assailant had help and anger over U.S. forces.
Seoul in Damage
Control After U.S. Envoy Suffers Bloody Attack (The
Korea Times, South Korea)
attacker shouted demands calling for a halt to the annual Korea-U.S. military exercised
now underway. … The assailant was invited to the event but didn't RSVP. The
organizer allowed him to enter even though he wasn't on the list of attendees. …
The government said cooperation will be crucial following remarks by Under
Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman. … Concerns were raised
that Washington may have taken sides with Tokyo in regard to Japan Prime
Minister Shinzo Abe's efforts to whitewash the
colonial misdeeds of his country. However, the assailant told police that he had
no accomplices, and denied the assault had anything to do with Sherman's
To treat a gash on his right cheek caused by a knife attack
by a radical activist Thursday morning, U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert is expected to remain hospitalized for three or
four days. The wound, which is 11cm long and 3cm deep, required more than 80
stitches. Doctors who treated Lippert said the
ambassador also suffered a 3cm long penetration wound on his left arm.
According to the Yonsei University
Severance Hospital medical team treating him, Lippert also
sustained damage to tendons in two fingers. They said two surgeries were carried out simultaneously which
took about two and a half hours and that the ambassador is in stable
At about 7:50am, Lippert was
rushed to Kangbuk Samsung Hospital and then at 9:22am
moved to the Yonsei University Severance Hospital where
two surgeries were performed, including 80 stitches to his face. The surgeries
were successful and Lippert was Tweeting positive
messages by late afternoon: “Doing well and in great spirits … deeply moved by
who performed the surgery on his arm, said the nerves of Lippert’s
pinkie were damaged and tendons of thumb and index finger were also partially
cut. “The nerve repair went successfully, and the fingers will fully recover
their functions after about six months,” he said.
The American diplomat, who assumed his post in October, was
attacked at about 7:40am at Seoul's Sejong Center for
the Performing Arts where he was about to give a lecture on Peace, Unification of the Two Koreas and the
Prospects of Korea-U.S. relations.
The attacker, who heads his own reunification research
institute and has a history of attacking members of foreign embassies, was
immediately pounced on, disarmed and arrested. He once set himself on fire near
the Blue House to protest an alleged attack on his institute.
According to the Korean Council for Reconciliation and
Cooperation, the assailant was invited to the event but didn't RSVP. The organizer
allowed Kim to enter even though he wasn't on the list of attendees.
After being told about the incident during a trip to the
Middle East, President Park Geun-hye said, “This is
an attack on the Korea-U.S. alliance. The government is taking all necessary
measures including holding a thorough investigation and has reinforced
Park expressed regret for the attack and wishes
for Lippert's quick recovery to President Barack
Obama and the U.S. government.
Shin Jae-hyun, director-general
for North American Affairs at the Foreign Ministry, said the suspect shouted
slogans about peace and unification on the Korean Peninsula and against war and
Korea-U.S. military drills.
The attack took place four minutes after the assailant arrived. Saenuri Party lawmaker Chang Yoon-seok, who was seated beside the ambassador, said Lippert was assulted just as he began eating his first course and before his planned speech. As Lippert spoke of his son, born in Seoul in January, and how he would like to have his second child born here, Chang said the attacker, seated at a table further away, approached and began slashing.
Impact on Relations
Vice Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yong
was ordered to quickly provide the U.S. government with an explanation and to
ensure that the incident won’t negatively affect U.S.-South Korea relations.
While the assailant demanded that annual Korea-U.S. military
exercises be halted, the Defense Ministry said they would continue.
Foreign Minister YunByung-se and Ambassador Lippert have confirmed that the Seoul-Washington alliance
would remain strong despite the assault, the government said.
"The Korea-U.S. alliance is too strong to be affected
by this incident alone," said Yun was quoted as saying
after a phone conversation with Lippert.
The government said four senior officials in the U.S., two
from each side, had met and agreed to work closely to prevent the assault from
damaging the alliance. Despite the move, some experts express concern that the
incident will likely have an adverse impact.
The four officials were Korean Ambassador to the U.S. Ahn Ho-young, Korean Consul General to the U.S. Cho
Hyun-dong, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Daniel Russel and Sung Kim, Washington's former top
envoy to Seoul who now serves as special representative for North Korea policy
and deputy assistant secretary of state for Korea and Japan.
"Ahn and Cho expressed regret
over the incident," the Foreign Ministry said. "They and their U.S.
counterparts agreed on the need to work closely to prevent the incident from
developing into a diplomatic problem and negatively affect the Korea-U.S.
The government said cooperation will be crucial following controversial
remarks by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman on Feb.
Concerns were raised that Washington may have taken sides
with Tokyo in regard to Japan Prime Minister Shinzo
Abe's efforts to whitewash the colonial misdeeds of his country.
However, Kim told police that he planned the attack alone
and had no accomplices, and denied that the assault had anything to do with Sherman's
[Editor's Note: At a seminar in Washington last week, Sherman
reportedly said, “Of course … it's not hard for a political
leader anywhere to earn cheap applause by vilifying a former enemy,” she said,
after pointing to various disagreements that relate to Japan’s colonial past.
“But such provocations produce paralysis, not progress.”
held a rally in central Seoul calling for the U.S. to apologize over Sherman's
controversial remarks on Northeast Asian history [photo, left]. Politicians
from across the South Korean political spectrum condemned her comments, arguing
that the situation was a result of Tokyo failing to acknowledge its historic
aggression toward Korea.]
Experts said the assault on Lippert will not hurt the
Korea-U.S. relationship, but that the incident may hinder Seoul's efforts to
convince Washington to take its side over Japan's wartime atrocities.
They speculated that the government and civic groups may for
the time being find it hard to raise issues with Washington over historical
disputes between Seoul and Tokyo.
"The assault won't lead to frayed U.S.-Korea ties"
said Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at Korea National
Diplomatic Academy, an institute run by the Foreign Ministry. "But it's
likely that Korea will need to set aside historical disputes with Japan for the
time being and instead soothe the U.S. … Such a situation will frustrate government
effort to share with the U.S. its views of Tokyo's wartime atrocities."
He also speculated that protests by civic groups in front of
the U.S. Embassy over Sherman's comments would subside.
Kim Yeoul-soo, professor of international
politics at Sungshin Women's University, agreed.
"I believe Lippert played a key
role in the U.S. government's prompt response to Korea's criticism of Sherman's
On March 2, the U.S. Department of State said Tokyo's
wartime sexual enslavement of women was a "terrible, egregious violation
of human rights."
A History of Attacks Against Diplomats
According to the government, this wasn't the first time the
assailant had attacked a diplomat in Korea. During a lecture in 2010, Kim Ki-jong threw two cement blocks at then-Japanese Ambassador
to Korea ToshinoriShigeie.
An embassy interpreter was injured. Kim recieved
a two-year suspended sentence.
“Kim has six prior criminal convictions,” said North American
Affairs Director General Shin Jae-hyun. “It is our
understanding that he habitually attacks foreign embassies workers here.”
Kim violently resisted arrest, claimed his ankle was injured
during the capture and demanded a lawyer.
At 11am Kim was sent to a nearby clinic, arriving for
questioning at the Jongno Police Precinct around
12:38pm. A police official said they may seek attempted murder charges as they obtain
a detention warrant.
Shortly after the attack, Kim told journalists that for the
past 30 years he had participated in anti-war protests and he demanded that
Seoul and Washington immediately halt their war games. He also said annual
joint military drills have prevented the reunions of families separated by the
“The Key Resolve exercise is ruining inter-Korean
relations,” Kim said immediately after he was wrestled to the ground. “I'm not
ashamed. I used this knife to peel a fruit.”
When he arrived at the police station at 12:30pm,
journalists again asked why he attacked Lippert. Kim
said, “Only in this way will the Americans come to their senses.”
According to the police, the U.S. Embassy made no request
for added security during the ambassador’s visit to the event. Under the
Presidential Security Act, police protection is provided whenever an embassy
makes such a request.
“The U.S. Embassy, citing security reasons, did not inform
us in advance about the ambassador’s schedule,” said a police official. “They
informed us earlier that morning and the U.S. Embassy provided its own security
The Jongno Police Precinct decided
independently to send a unit and deployed intelligence detectives, but didn't
screen participants or search their belongings.
“Because we sent the unit without an official request, we
couldn't search the participants. Without such a request by the Korean Council
for Reconciliation and Cooperation, which organized the event, or the U.S. Embassy,
no search would have been performed,” he said.
Born in Gangjin, South Jeolla in 1960, Kim Ki-jong graduated
from Sungkyunkwan University Law School in 1984. He has
devoted most of his career to unification issues and carrying out anti-American
and anti-Japanese activities. In 1984, he established the unification research
group Woori Madang.
According to the Unification Ministry, Kim was hired as an
instructor by the Institute for Unification Education, a post he held between 2006
and 2009. The Ministry also said he visited North Korea's Kaesong Industrial
Park in eight times between 2006 and 2007, all for a campaign to plant trees in
the border city.
In 2007, Kim created another group to promote Korea’s
sovereign rights over Dokdo, islets also claimed by
Japan. And in October 2007, he set fire to himself near the Blue House. In July
2010, he carried out the attack on the Japanese ambassador.
Kim's younger brother Kim Ki-chang
told the JoongAngIlbo that because
of his extreme actions, his older sibling had been estranged from his family
for years. “He was trying to prove something, but society wasn't accepting it,
so he probably acted even more radically,” the younger brother said.
Because almost all senior foreign affairs officials are with
President Park in the Middle East, including Presidential Senior Secretary for
Foreign and Security Affairs JuChul-ki
and Foreign Minister YunByung-se,
the government decided to assign newly-appointed Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo to deal with the aftermath of the attack.
Lee ordered an investigation into whether anyone else was involved
in the attack and oversaw Lippert's medical
treatment. He also ordered police and the Ministry of Government Administration
and Home Affairs to improve the security for diplomatic missions, including the
It also said Washington's position on historical tension in
Northeast Asia remains unchanged and that it should be dealt with in a way that
"promotes healing and reconciliation."
"It's pretty embarrassing that Lippert
was attacked," Kim said.
Attempted Murder Charges
Police said Friday they have requested an arrest warrant for
a South Korean man on attempted murder charges for slashing U.S. Ambassador to
Seoul Mark Lippert's face and wrist in a show of
discontent over ongoing bilateral military drills.
None of the wounds were critical, and Lippert
was well on his way to recovery as of Friday morning, according to Yoon Do-heum, head of Severance Hospital where the envoy underwent
It was the first time a U.S. envoy here has been attacked.
Kim was also behind the first-ever assault of a foreign envoy here when he
threw a rock at a Japanese ambassador to Seoul in 2010.
Kim had told officers that he plotted the attack to stop the
Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises that kicked off earlier this week. The
exercises are part of Seoul and Washington's efforts to better deter threats
from North Korea. Kim said he thought the drills hampered inter-Korean reconciliation. The two sides have remained technically since the 1950s after
the Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty.
Yoon Myeong-seong, chief of Jongno Police which is leading the investigation, said an
arrest warrant was requested for charges of attempted murder, violence against
a foreign envoy and business obstruction. A special investigation team has been assembled cpmprised of nearly 100 prosecutors and police officers, and
will be led by the anti-terrorism bureau of the Seoul Central District
An official at the National Police Agency said on condition of
anonymity that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has asked
South Korean authorities to share information on the investigation but will not participate. It will instead make inquiries about the
direction of the ivestigation.
Kim told police that he had no intention to
kill. But Chief Yoon said the fact the act was premeditated and that he slit Lippert multiples times with a
25-centimeter-long knife, including in the face, was enough to show that Kim willfully
neglected that possibility.
A preliminary ivestigation shows that Kim had been to North
Korea seven times between 1999 and 2007. Kim didn't appear suspicious during
these trips which were approved by the Unification Ministry, which handles
inter-Korean affairs. He also tried to erect an altar in the heart of Seoul in
memory of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in
December 2011, shortly after he passed away.
Police are already searching Kim's home and office in the Seodaemun district of western Seoul for documents and
hard drives. They said the items will help them learn how Kim planned
the attack and why. They also intend to illuminate whether he had an
accomplice. Police have also been issued a warrant to obtain Kim's phone
Posted By Worldmeets.US,
Authorities said the U.S. envoy had not been one of the
personnel requiring 24-hour guarding. The U.S. Embassy had also not requested
bodyguard service, they added.
Lippert is known to have close
personal ties to the White House and an extensive network of contacts within
the National Security Council and Pentagon and has been very engaged with the
Korean public, even setting up a Facebook page for his pet
basset hound Grigsby.
The White House said Obama called Lippert
after the attack to wish him a speedy recovery and the U.S. State Department
issued a statement saying, “We strongly condemn this act of violence.”
Lippert, 42, became the
youngest-ever U.S. envoy to Seoul last year. His wife gave birth to a son here,
to whom they gave a Korean middle name. He was previously the assistant
secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs from 2011 to 2012.