SEOUL, March 5 — The United States ambassador to South Korea, Mark W. Lippert, was attacked Thursday morning by a knife-wielding man who said he opposed joint American-South Korean military exercises, according to Korean journalists and officials who were at the scene. Mr. Lippert was taken to a Seoul hospital in stable condition with bleeding on the right side of his face, they added. South Korean news websites carried photos of Mr. Lippert walking to a car to be taken to the hospital.
He was covering the injury with his hand, and his shirt was spattered with blood. The assailant was apprehended at the scene and taken into custody. Before he was taken away, the attacker, who identified himself as Kim Ki-jong, told South Korean reporters that he had attacked Mr. Lippert to protest the annual joint military exercises that the United States started this week with South Korea. Some left-leaning activists in South Korea have criticized the exercises, saying that they raise tensions with North Korea and hamper efforts to build reconciliation on the divided Korean Peninsula. North Korea also condemned the exercises as a rehearsal for invasion, though both Washington and Seoul said the drills were defensive in nature.
Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement that Mr. Lippert’s wounds were not life-threatening. “We strongly condemn this act of violence,” she said, adding that the United States Embassy in Seoul was “coordinating with local law enforcement authorities.” She did not provide further details. South Korean journalists said the attack occurred at about 7:10 a.m. on Thursday, shortly after Mr. Lippert arrived at a restaurant attached to Sejong Center, a performance hall across the main boulevard from the American Embassy at the center of Seoul. He was scheduled to deliver a speech at a breakfast meeting hosted by the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, a local nongovernmental group focused on exchanges and reconciliation with North Korea.
“He sat at the head table and was exchanging name cards when a man approached the ambassador and toppled him and attacked him in the face with a knife,” said one of the reporters, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of his paper’s regulations on giving information to other news organizations. “When asked about his motive, he said he was committing an act of ‘terror’ to oppose military exercises for war.”
Mr. Lippert, an expert on Asia policy, was named ambassador to South Korea in 2014 after spending years working for President Obama on the National Security Council and at the Defense Department. Just before moving to the State Department, he was chief of staff to Chuck Hagel, then the defense secretary. A graduate of Stanford, Mr. Lippert has a long association with the president and was a foreign policy adviser when Mr. Obama was in the Senate. He served in the Navy and received a Bronze Star for service in Iraq.