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(9th LD) Assailant's home to be raided over US envoy attack

2015/03/05 18:05

SEOUL, March 5 (Yonhap) -- Police said Thursday they will seek a warrant to search and seize the home and office of a 55-year-old man who attacked the U.S. ambassador to South Korea to protest the ongoing military drills between the allies.

Kim Ki-jong cut Mark Lippert on the face and wrist just four minutes upon entering a venue in downtown Seoul where the envoy was to give a lecture at a breakfast function, said Yun Myeong-seong, head of the Jongno Police Station leading the investigation, in a briefing.

Lippert sustained cuts to five spots, including an 11-cm-long, 3-cm-deep gash extending from his right chin to cheek, according to Jung Nam-shik, head of Severance Hospital where Lippert underwent an operation.

None of the wounds were life-threatening, and there was no damage to key facial organs such as the nerves and salivary glands, Jung said, adding that there was, however, a minor wound to the nerves in his left pinkie, which should recover in six months to a year.

Had the cut on his face been deeper, it could have damaged a major artery, which could have been potentially critical, he added.

Lippert posted on his Twitter account after the surgery that he was "doing well and in good spirits" and that he was "deeply moved by the support" he received.

"Will be back ASAP (as soon as possible) to advance US-ROK alliance!" he wrote, using the acronym of South Korea's official name, the Republic of Korea.

Kim was arrested on the spot, with an investigation team comprised of 75 prosecutors and police officers considering various charges, including attempted murder, for a warrant.

The anti-terrorism bureau of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office, not the regular criminal bureau, would take on the case, considering the gravity of the crime.

"We considered the gravity of the issue and that the act could be seen as terrorism," a prosecution official said on condition of anonymity.

U.S. envoy to Seoul Mark Lippert is rushed to a hospital on March 5, 2015, after being attacked by a pro-North Korean activist and sustaining injuries to his face and wrist. (Yonhap) U.S. envoy to Seoul Mark Lippert is rushed to a hospital on March 5, 2015, after being attacked by a pro-North Korean activist and sustaining injuries to his face and wrist. (Yonhap)

It is the first time a U.S. ambassador has been attacked in South Korea. Kim was also behind the first-ever assault against a foreign ambassador here, which took place in 2010. He was given a suspended jail term for throwing pieces of concrete at then Japanese envoy to Seoul Toshinori Shigeie. In a book detailing the incident published last year, Kim reportedly idealized terrorism.

South Korean intelligence sources said Kim had visited North Korea six times between 2006 and 2007. He also tried to erect a memorial altar in late 2011 for late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in the heart of Seoul.

In 2007, Kim set himself on fire in front of the presidential office in Seoul, asking for an inquiry into a rape that allegedly took place at his office in 1988.

Lippert, 42, took office last year as the youngest-ever U.S. ambassador to Seoul. His wife gave birth to a son here in late January and the couple gave him a Korean middle name. He was formerly the assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs from 2011 to 2012.

The suspect shouted his opposition to the annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle military exercises that started Monday as he was being taken into a police car, authorities said. The exercises are part of Seoul and Washington's efforts to better deter threats from North Korea.

Kim is the head of a liberal organization that protests Japan's territorial claims over South Korea's easternmost islets of Dokdo.

According to recent blog posts, Kim appears to have shifted his attention from the islets issue to the role the U.S. plays in inter-Korean relations.

On Tuesday, Kim wrote a post that condemned the military drills between South Korea and the U.S., calling it "the reason why the reunion between family members (separated by the 1950-53 Korean War) couldn't take place."

  

The suspect in a knife attack against U.S. envoy to Seoul Mark Lippert is carried to a police car to face interrogation on March 5, 2015. (Yonhap) The suspect in a knife attack against U.S. envoy to Seoul Mark Lippert is carried to a police car to face interrogation on March 5, 2015. (Yonhap)

Kim told reporters as he was about to get an X-ray that he had planned the attack for about 10 days. He said he was the one who "made the U.S. Embassy here create fences around it in 1985," when he cut and immolated the U.S. national flag after barging into the building.

"I (attacked the ambassador) because I didn't like how a moron who's barely in his 40s was going to take on our inter-Korean policy," he said.

Kim was also found to have been appointed by Seoul's unification minister twice to lead efforts to educate South Koreans on the need for reunification. Kim served two terms as a member of the unification education council from 2006 to 2009. There are more than 1,000 such members at home and abroad. The news sparked criticism as to whether the government conducted a thorough background check on the council members.

The organizer of Thursday's event, the Korea Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, said Kim had not been invited to the event but somehow was able to get in.

Police said the U.S. envoy was not one of the personnel requiring 24-hour guarding. They also said the U.S. Embassy here had not requested a security escort.

In a statement by U.S. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf, the U.S. said it "strongly (condemns) this act of violence."

   South Korean President Park Geun-hye also denounced the violence as an "attack on the alliance between South Korea and the U.S."

   Seoul's foreign ministry said South Korea and the U.S. have agreed not to let the incident harm their alliance.

Police said they will strengthen the security around U.S.-related facilities and personnel from now on to prevent similar attacks in a measure criticized as being too late.

Lippert will be provided with four police officers as guards, and his wife three officers, effective as of 10 a.m. Thursday, authorities said.

pbr@yna.co.kr

sojungpark@yna.co.kr

(END)

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