SEOUL, South Korea (4th UPDATE) – The US ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert, was slashed on his face and arm in Seoul on Thursday, March 5, by a blade-wielding assailant opposed to ongoing US-Korean military drills.
The United States condemned the "act of violence" which left the ambassador bleeding profusely as he was rushed to hospital, and said that President Barack Obama had spoken with him.
Witnesses described how a man with a blade concealed in his right hand had lunged across a table at Lippert at a breakfast function at the Sejong Cultural Institute in central Seoul.
Video footage showed the ambassador being escorted out of the building holding one hand to his bleeding right cheek, and his other hand smeared with blood with an apparent wound to the wrist.
Lippert, 42, was bundled into a police car and rushed to hospital, where a US embassy spokesman said he was in a "stable" condition.
Police identified the attacker as Kim Ki-Jong, 55, and said he was a left-wing nationalist with a previous conviction for hurling a stone at the then Japanese ambassador to Seoul in 2010.
District police chief Yoon Myung-Soon said Kim had slashed the ambassador with a 25-centimeter (10-inch) paring knife.
"We have detained him and are investigating the cause of the attack and other circumstances," he said.
The US State Department confirmed Lippert's injuries were not life-threatening and said it "strongly condemned this act of violence".
The White House said Obama had 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".
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.
Lippert was treated for two hours and then transferred to the prestigious Severance Hospital. Television footage showed him walking into the facility with a bandage covering his lower face and neck.
South Korean President Park Geun-Hye condemned the "intolerable" assault on the US envoy, 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.
A spokesman for the Korea Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, which hosted the breakfast function, apologised for the lack of security at the event.
"This man suddenly jumped out of the audience 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.
Angry with military drills
Security staff and police officers were later seen tackling Kim, who was dressed in traditional Korean clothes and shouting slogans against joint US-South Korea military exercises.
The annual military drills kicked off earlier this week, triggering a surge in tensions with North Korea.
Nearly 30,000 US troops are permanently stationed in South Korea and the United States would assume operational command in the event of an armed conflict with the North.
Kim heads an organization that regularly organizes protests against Japanese territorial claims to a group of small islands controlled by South Korea.
He also has a blog on which he wrote Tuesday, March 3, of his opposition to the joint US-South Korea drills, saying they were blocking the resumption of a dialogue between North and South Korea.
Lippert has proved a popular ambassador, tweeting regularly about his life in the capital and setting up a tongue-in-cheek Twitter account for his dog, Grigsby.
His wife recently gave birth in Seoul and the couple gave their son a Korean middle name.
The attack carried echoes of a 2006 assault on President Park Geun-Hye when she was a legislator.
A 50-year-old man slashed Park across the face with a blade while she was out campaigning for a local election.
He was convicted of attempted murder and jailed for 10 years. – Jung Ha-Won, AFP / Rappler.com