TOKYO — The U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert, was attacked by an armed assailant while he was heading to give a lecture in central Seoul Thursday morning.
Television reports from Seoul showed Lippert, a former assistant secretary of defense and adviser to President Obama, bleeding from his head and hand at the Sejong cultural center, across the road from the American embassy. Police said he was attacked with a 25-cm-long fruit knife. According to reports, the attacker yelled, “No war! The two Koreas should be unified.”
Yonhap News Agency reported that Lippert was bleeding heavily and was taken to a nearby hospital. An American embassy spokesman said that Lippert was in a stable condition. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the ambassador’s injuries were not life threatening. “We strongly condemn this act of violence,” she said in a statement. Obama called Lippert to “wish him the very best for a speedy recovery, ” National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said.
Yonhap reported that the assailant, identified as Kim Ki-jong, 55, was immediately apprehended. He is a member of the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, which organized the event, police said.
Kim grabbed Lippert who was entering the hall and slashed about three times at the right side of his face and his left wrist, the news agency reported.
In July 2010, Kim threw a piece of concrete at Japanese ambassador to South Korea and received a two-year jail term, suspended for three years, Yonhap said.
Since arriving in Seoul in the summer, Lippert has established himself as a down-to-earth, approachable ambassador. Unusually, he walks the short distance from his official residence to the embassy most days, greeting Koreans along the way.
He can also be seen early in the morning and at night walking his basset hound, Grigsby, in the area of central Seoul where his residence, the embassy and the Sejong center are all located. He has even set up a Twitter account for Grigsby, @grigsbybasset, where he posts pictures of himself and the dog around Seoul.
Lippert and his wife Robyn had their first baby in Seoul earlier this year and gave the boy a Korean middle name — he’s called James William Sejun Lippert — which was widely reported in the Korean media.
But despite Lippert’s efforts at outreach, the American presence in Korea remains controversial. There are more than 25,000 U.S. troops in the South, guarding against the threat from North Korea, and some Koreans resent their continued presence 60 years after the end of the Korean War.
Yoonjung Seo in Seoul contributed to this report.