North Korea hailed a South Korean man’s attack on the U.S. ambassador to Seoul in a statement through its Korean Central News Agency, saying the attack “reflects public opinion” in South Korea and is a “righteous punishment” against the United States.
The statement said the alleged assailant, Kim Ki-jong, 55, gave “a knife-attack shower of justice” to Mark Lippert, who police said was slashed on the face and wrist with a 10-inch fruit knife.
Lippert was seen with blood on his hand and holding his bleeding face, and medical officials said 80 stitches were needed to close the facial wound. Lippert was in stable condition after undergoing surgery, the U.S. Embassy said.
The assailant shouted, "No to war training" before attacking Lippert, the Yonhap news agency reported. The man was reportedly later tackled and arrested.
The suspect’s reported comments touch on a deep political divide in South Korea over the still-fresh legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which is still technically ongoing because it ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty. Some South Koreans blame the presence of 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in the South as a deterrent to the North for the continuing split of the Korean Peninsula along the world's most heavily armed border – a view North Korea's propaganda machine regularly pushes in state media.
The U.S. State Department condemned the attack, which happened at a performing arts center in downtown Seoul as the ambassador was preparing for a lecture about prospects for peace on the divided Korean Peninsula.
In a televised briefing, Chung Nam-sik of the Severance Hospital said the knife penetrated through Lippert's left arm and damaged the nerves connected to his pinkie and tendons connected to his thumb. Lippert will need to be treated at the hospital for the next three or four days and might experience sensory problems in his left hand for several months, Chung said.
President Obama called Lippert to tell him "he and his wife Robyn are in his thoughts and prayers, and to wish him the very best for a speedy recovery,” according to National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan.
Lippert previously held positions at the Department of Defense from May 2012 until September 2014, according to the embassy website.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.