A 55-year-old South Korean activist wielding a razor blade attacked Mark Lippert, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, leaving him bloodied with serious cuts to his face and arm, according to multiple news Korean news reports.
The alleged assailant, Kim Ki-jong attacked Lippert from behind while they were at a breakfast lecture in Seoul, where Lippert was scheduled to speak, according to the Yonhap news agency.
The lecture was hosted by the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, the Associated Press reports. Lippert, 41, has been ambassador since October 2014.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. He Was Bloodied, But Able to Walk Away On His Own
Lippert was conscious alert and walked out of the lecture hall on his own power. He was taken to a local hospital where he underwent surgery, receiving more than 80 stitches to close the wounds to his right cheek and wrist, the Korea Times reports.
He is in stable condition, according to the AP.
State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said in a statement:
We strongly condemn this act of violence. The Ambassador is being treated at a local hospital. His injuries are not life threatening. Embassy Seoul is coordinating with local law enforcement authorities.
2. The Attacker Was Apparently Protesting the U.S. Military’s Presence in Korea
According to the Korean news reports, Lippert’s attacker, Kim Ki-jong was taken into custody at the scene. Ki-joong is reportedly an ultra-nationalist activist who is against the joint U.S.-South Korea military drills that began this week, according to Yonhap.
The attacker screamed “South and North Korea should be reunified,” before the attack, the Associated Press reports.
Kim previously attacked the Japanese ambassador in 2010, throwing a piece of concrete at her at an event in Seoul. Kim was protesting Japan’s ownership claims of a group of islands in easternmost Korea. The land has been in dispute for several years. He also attempted to set himself on fire in 2007 in an attempt to get the Korean government to investigate a gang-rape that occurred at an office building he worked at in 1988, according to Korean news reports.
3. Lippert Is a Close Ally of President Obama
Lippert has known Obama since they worked together in the Senate. Lippert was a foreign policy advise to Obama and sometimes played basketball with the future president, according to a Newsweek profile.
He worked on Obama’s first presidential campaign and transition team, before holding several posts within Obama’s administration, including deputy assistant to the president, chief of staff to the National Security Council, assistant director for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs and chief of staff to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.
Obama then nominated Lippert to become the youngest ambassador to South Korea in U.S. history and the first American ambassador to be a political appointee. The previous ambassadors had spent their entire careers in the foreign service, according to The Daily Beast.
After the attack, Obama called Lippert at the hospital to “wish him the very best for a speedy recovery,” the Washington Post reports.
4. He Served in the Navy
Lippert was commissioned into the Navy Reserves in 2005 as an intelligence officer. He served a one-year deployment in Iraq from 2007 to 2008, working with Seal Team One. He earned a Bronze Star Medal for his service.
In 2010, Lippert returned to active duty, serving for two years, including in Afghanistan with Seal Team 6.
After returning from his first deployment, Lippert told Newsweek that he faced little danger, but did return with a different policy viewpoint:
I had no mishaps, other than cutting my hand on a cracked crab in the dining hall. I think you recognize that when you work in the Senate, you work at the strategic level. And I was [in Iraq] at a very tactical level. It would be naive if I came back and said I have the answer. But what it did do was give me a sense of more personal investment in the place. I’m still very much grappling with it.
5. Lippert’s Son Was Born in South Korea
Lippert’s wife, Robyn, gave birth to their son, James, in January. His son was given a Korean middle name, Sejun, according to the Korea Times.