South Korea US envoy Lippert ‘well’ after knife attack

A militant Korean nationalist has slashed the face of the US ambassador to South Korea at a breakfast meeting in Seoul, but the envoy was not seriously hurt.

Mark Lippert, 42, was also cut on his left hand, with blood spattered over the breakfast table.

Security officers subdued the attacker, one pinning him down with a shoe on his neck, until he was arrested.

North Korea has described the attack as “just punishment for US warmongers”.

The North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said he had delivered a “knife shower of justice”.

The attacker, named as Kim Ki-jong, 55, appears to have broken his ankle during the attack and was taken away on an ambulance trolley after questioning.

South Korean police, who are in the process of obtaining warrants to search his home, are seeking to establish whether he has close ties with the North, the BBC’s Stephen Evans reports from Seoul.

Mr Lippert had hospital treatment but later wrote in a tweet: “Doing well and in great spirits… Will be back ASAP to advance US-ROK [Republic of Korea] alliance!”

US President Barack Obama called his ambassador to wish him “the very best for a speedy recovery”, a US official said.

The US state department said it strongly condemned the incident which South Korean President Park Guen-hye described as an “attack on the South Korea-US alliance”.

A small group of South Koreans held a protest against the attack outside the hospital where Mr Lippert was treated, waving placards which read “Mark Lippert, Cheer up!” and “Korea-US relationship is solid”.

The attack happened at about 07:40 (22:40 GMT Wednesday), as the ambassador was at a performing arts centre in central Seoul.

It took 80 stitches to close the ambassador’s facial wound, which was 11 cm (just more than 4 in) long and 3 cm deep, doctors said.

The cut did not affect his nerves or salivary gland, hospital spokesman Chung Nam-sik said.

Lew Dae-hyun, a plastic surgeon at Yonsei University’s Severance Hospital, said Mr Lippert had narrowly escaped having much more serious injuries.

“If the cut had been one to two centimetres deeper than it is now, it could have damaged the carotid on the upper neck, which could have turned it into a serious emergency situation,” he said. “It could have been life-threatening.”

The assailant was interrogated three hours on his stretcher before being taken to hospital, the Yonhap news agency reports, quoting police.

“We considered the gravity of the issue and that the act could be seen as terrorism,” an unnamed prosecution official said.

Ahead of his attack, Mr Kim had reportedly shouted: “South and North Korea should be reunified!” and condemned the current annual military exercises held jointly by South Korea and the US.

North Korea has described the exercises – which involve more than 200,000 troops – as a rehearsal for an invasion and has vowed retaliation.

The 1950-53 war which split the Korean peninsula ended in an armistice, with neither side able to claim outright victory.

No peace treaty has ever been signed and the sides regularly accuse each other of violating the agreement.

Mr Lippert – a former US assistant secretary of defence – was appointed ambassador to South Korea in 2014.

His wife gave birth in the country, and the couple gave their son a Korean middle name, Associated Press news agency reports.