WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States on Friday condemned North Korea's "callous" reaction to the knife attack on the U.S. ambassador to South Korea that has added to tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula.
An anti-U.S. activist is accused of attacking Ambassador Mark Lippert with a 10-inch (25-centimeter) knife in Seoul Thursday, causing deep gashes on his face and hand.
On Thursday, North Korea's state-controlled media crowed that the attacker's "knife slashes of justice" were "a deserved punishment on war maniac U.S." The U.S. on Monday began military drills with allied South Korea that are held annually but described by Pyongyang as preparation for invasion.
"We have seen the statement, which was outrageously callous but unfortunately consistent with the nature of the regime and its rhetoric. I can't condemn it in any stronger terms than that," Harf told reporters.
Lippert, 42, was recovering well but complaining of pain in the wound near his left wrist and a finger where doctors repaired nerve damage. Doctors plan to remove the 80 stitches on Lippert's face on Monday or Tuesday and expect him to be out of the hospital by Tuesday or Wednesday. Hospital officials say he may experience sensory problems in his left hand for several months.
South Korean police on Friday were investigating the motive of the anti-U.S. activist, Kim Ki-jong, 55, who was captured at scene of the attack. A court formally approved his arrest Friday and he could face charges including attempted murder, assaulting a foreign envoy, obstruction, and violating a controversial law that bans praise or assistance for North Korea, police officials said.
Kim has a long history of violent protests, and police are looking into his past travels to North Korea — seven times between 1999 and 2007. He told police he acted alone and was protesting the military exercises that anti-U.S. activists see as a major obstacle to their goal of a unified Korea.
Washington, which backed South Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War against the communist North, still stations 28,500 troops in the South.
The assault on Lippert has raised questions over the security afforded the U.S. ambassador, a former close aide to President Barack Obama. He's a popular figure in South Korea and is regularly seen walking his dog near his residence, not far from where the attack happened.
Despite regular threats of war from North Korea, Seoul is considered a relatively low-risk diplomatic posting.
Harf said Lippert had one full-time bodyguard assigned from the Seoul metropolitan police, and typically police in South Korea are not armed. She said Seoul is not a "high-threat" environment in which the U.S. Bureau of Diplomatic Security would deploy its own guards to protect the ambassador. She said "several" more South Korean police have now been added to Lippert's security detail.
According to a Seoul police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing office rules, 29 officers were deployed as a precaution at Thursday's event, although all but four were on standby outside the building, the officer said.
"We are still getting all the facts about how people were screened to get into this event, how people were on the list, how they were allowed in," Harf said.
Kim was well-known among police. He received a three-year suspended sentence in 2010 for throwing a piece of concrete at the Japanese ambassador to Seoul. More recently, he was investigated by Seoul prosecutors after allegedly assaulting at least one public employee at an outdoor pop concert in January.
Associated Press writers Kim Tong-Hyung and Foster Klug in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.