South Korean police said today they were investigating possible links the man behind a shocking knife attack on the US ambassador may have had with North Korea, as Seoul voiced disgust at Pyongyang's reaction to the incident.
Kim Ki-Jong, 55, faces possible attempted murder charges after slashing ambassador Mark Lippert with a paring knife in an assault that left the US envoy needing 80 stitches to adeep gash on his face. The profile painted of Kim is that of a lone assailant with strong nationalist views who saw the United States as oneof the main obstacles to the reunification of the dividedKorean peninsula.
But it also emerged that he had visited North Korea morethan half-a-dozen times between 2006-07, and had tried to erect a memorial to Kim Jong-II in Seoul after the late NorthKorean leader's death in 2011.
Any red flags such activities may have raised were only underlined by North Korea's reaction to the attack, which the official KCNA news agency described as "just punishment" and avalid "expression of resistance" to ongoing US-South Koreajoint military exercises.
"We are investigating his possible connection with North Korea," Yoon Myung-Soon, the police chief of the central Seoul district where the attack took place, told reporters. "There is no evidence yet, but we are trying to find outwhether he has violated the national security law," Yoon said.
Enacted in 1948 to protect the fledgling South Korean state from infiltration by the communist North, the law prohibits the spoken or written promotion of North Korean ideology, deeming any such activity to be "anti-state" and subject to up to seven years imprisonment. Doctors at the hospital where Lippert underwenttwo-and-a-half hours surgery following the attack, said the envoy was recovering well and would have his stitches removed early next week.
There was no irreversible nerve damage to his face,although a cut to his left hand had damaged the nerves of hislittle finger that could take six months to repair. South Korea's Unification Ministry, which is responsiblefor inter-Korean affairs, said it was appalled by the North'sresponse to the assault.
"We strongly censure North Korea for giving support to the incident and distorting its nature," said ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-Chol. "North Korea should stop its irrational incitement and think seriously about what it should do for the development ofinter-Korean relations and true peace on the Koreanpeninsula," Lim said.