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US Ambassador to Seoul Receives 80 Stitches After Knife Attack

U.S. ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert, right, covers a slash on his face as he leaves the Sejong Cultural Institute in Seoul, after he was attacked by an armed assailant, in Seoul, March 5, 2015.

The U.S. Ambassador to South Korea received 80 stitches in his face after he was attacked by a knife-wielding assailant Thursday morning in Seoul.

The attacker is an ultra-nationalist political activist who claims he acted alone.

Ambassador Mark Lippert, 42, underwent surgery at the Sinchon Severance Hospital in Seoul to repair lacerations to his face and left hand. The hospital director Jung Nam-shik said the ambassador needed stitches to close the deep gash to his face.

Jung said the gash on Lippert's face was about 11 centimeters long and 3 centimeters deep, located from his right cheekbone to jaw. He added that there was no major damage to Lippert's facial nerves or salivary glands.

Doctors also treated his thumb and two fingers on left hand that were cut during the attack.

Lippert wrote on his Twitter account that he is doing well and is in great spirits. He will likely remain under observation in the hospital for three to four days.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told The Associated Press on Thursday that Lippert was "doing as good as can be expected" after he was attacked in South Korea.

Kerry, who was in Saudi Arabia for meetings with Gulf state officials, added that Lippert intended "to soldier on" despite the attack.

Lippert became ambassador in Seoul in October 2014 and has been a regular presence on social media and in speeches and presentations during his time in the South Korean capital, the AP reported.

Lippert was attacked by a Korean assailant with a 25 centimeter long knife while attending a forum on Korean reconciliation. The organization that hosted the event, the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, is a coalition of various groups that support the peaceful unification of the two Koreas.

How slasher gained access

Lee Sang-heon, the group’s director, denied reports the assailant, Kim Ki-jong, 55, was a representative from any of the member groups.

Lee said Kim was able to gain admittance by taking advantage of a bureaucratic oversight, saying he was from an old group that no longer exists but remains on the organization’s list.

A man, bottom center, who attacked U.S. ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert, is detained by police at the Sejong Cultural Institute in Seoul, March 5, 2015.
A man, bottom center, who attacked U.S. ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert, is detained by police at the Sejong Cultural Institute in Seoul, March 5, 2015.

Lee apologized for the breach of security but said they did not think there was any cause for broader concern.

He said it was an annual event and there had been no such incident like this in past, so they did not request extra police presence.

Kim reportedly told police he acted alone. When he attacked the ambassador, he reportedly shouted, "South and North Korea should be reunified!”

In a recent blog post believed to have been written by Kim, he blamed the joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises currently underway for preventing the reunions of families that have been separated since the end of the Korean War in 1953. North Korea recently cited the joint drills as the reason why they would not permit the reunions to take place.

On Thursday, Pyongyang said the attack on the ambassador was "just punishment" for the U.S. going ahead with the joint military drills.

History of violence

South Korean media reports that Kim has a long history of ultra-nationalist activism and violence that includes burning a U.S. flag on the embassy grounds in Seoul in 1985, staging one-man protests against Japan over disputed islands, and attempting to light himself on fire during a protest in front of the presidential Blue House in 2007.

Police say Kim was arrested in 2010 for throwing concrete stones at the Japanese ambassador and received a suspended two-year jail sentence.

Kim is well-known among police and activists as one of a hard-core group of protesters willing to use violence to highlight their causes, the AP reported. Such protesters often portray their causes as matters of life and death.

There are also reports alleging Kim visited North Korea six times between 2006 and 2007 and that he tried to erect a memorial in Seoul for the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in 2011.

South Korean officials condemned the attack, calling it an unacceptable harmful act and a very serious crime against the envoy representing South Korea’s most important ally.

The South Korean Defense ministry said the attack will not affect the ongoing joint military exercises, which involve thousands of troops from the United States and South Korea and are meant to prepare for a possible attack from North Korea.

VOA News Producer Youmi Kim contributed to this report. Some material for this report came from Reuters and AP.