UK
05/03/2015 04:30 GMT | Updated 05/03/2015 04:59 GMT

US Ambassador Mark Lippert Slashed In Face By Screaming Knifeman In South Korea

This is the terrifying moment a screaming knifeman slashed a US envoy in the face.

Ambassador Mark Lippert was attacked at a performing arts centre in downtown Seoul as he prepared to lecture about prospects for peace on the divided Korean Peninsula.

His assailant was screaming demands for a unified North and South Korea when he stabbed him in the face and wrist with a knife.

mark lippert

US Ambassador Mark Lippert was attacked by a man wielding a knife

Images showed a stunned-looking Lippert holding his right hand over a cut on the right side of his face, his tie splattered with blood.

The attack came suddenly, witnesses said, with the screaming man launching himself at Lippert as soup was being served for a breakfast meeting.

Yonhap TV showed men in suits and ties piled on top of the attacker, who was dressed in a modern version of the traditional Korean hanbok, and Lippert later being rushed to a police car with a blood-soaked handkerchief pressed to his cheek.

mark lippert

Lippert suffered cuts to his face and wrist in the attack

The suspect also shouted anti-war slogans after he was detained, police said. They said the knife was about 25 centimeters long (10 inches).

The U.S. Embassy later said Lippert was in stable condition after surgery at a Seoul hospital.

In a televised briefing, Chung Nam-sik of the Severance Hospital said 80 stiches were needed to close the facial wound, which was 11 centimeters (just more than 4 inches) long and 3 centimeters (just more than 1 inch) deep. He added the cut did not affect his nerves or salivary gland.

mark lippert

The man, who had been shouting anti-war slogans, was restrained at the scene

Chung 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 may experience sensory problems in his left hand for several months, Chung said.

The attack will shock many outsiders because the United States is South Korea's closest ally, its military protector and a big trading partner and cultural influence.

But the reported comments of the suspect, 55-year-old Kim Ki-jong, during the attack — "South and North Korea should be reunified" — 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.

Photo galleryMark Lippert attacked See Gallery

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.

A direct attack on a senior U.S. official is unusual, but it represents a thread in South Korean society of sometimes extreme protests on both sides of the political divide.

Regular small to medium-sized demonstrations, often by activists seen as professional protesters, occur across Seoul, often either by anti-U.S. liberals who support closer reconciliation with the North, or pro-government conservative groups who support the U.S. and loathe Pyongyang.