Story highlights

NEW: Court: Authorities obtain an arrest warrant for the man suspected in the stabbing

U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert underwent surgery and is recovering

North Korea calls the ambassador's stabbing a "knife attack of justice"

Seoul, South Korea CNN —  

A man opposed to joint South Korean-U.S. military drills attacked the American ambassador in Seoul, slashing his face and arm as he was about to give a speech Thursday morning, authorities said.

North Korea quickly called the stabbing a “knife attack of justice” and said it reflected “anti-U.S. sentiment” in South Korea.

Authorities have obtained an arrest warrant for the knifing suspect, Kim Ki-Jong, an official at Seoul Central District Court said Friday. He was detained immediately after the attack, with authorities having time to formally arrest him or let him go.

Kim, 55, who has a history of unpredictable behavior, could eventually be charged with attempted murder and other charges.

A police official, Yoon Myeong-seong, also told reporters that Kim had previously visited North Korea seven times between 1999 and 2007, and that authorities were “intensively investigating” a possible connection between his visits to the reclusive state and this attack.

The U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert, was in stable condition after undergoing more than two hours of surgery, in which he got 80 stitches to his face. He will probably remain hospitalized for three to four days, said Dr. Jung Nam-shik at Yonsei Severance Hospital.

In 2010, Kim received a suspended two-year prison sentence for throwing a piece of concrete at a Japanese ambassador to South Korea, according to the Yonhap news agency.

The motive for his attack Thursday? He wanted an end to the South Korean-U.S. military drills to improve North-South relations, police said. The drills are held annually despite predictably harsh criticism from North Korea.

The North Korean government believes the attack is “just punishment for U.S. warmongers,” according to its official news agency, KCNA.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye, on the other hand, condemned it.

“This incident is not only a physical attack on the U.S. ambassador,” she said, “but an attack on the South Korea-U.S. alliance and it can never be tolerated.”

U.S. diplomats have been attacked, killed in past

The attack

Lippert was attacked while attending an event organized by the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, which advocates peaceful reunification between the two Koreas.

The U.S. Embassy did not request special security for the event, Seoul police said. Three police officers were on duty at the building’s entrance, and 25 others were on standby.

Kim sat down at a different table than Lippert, then got up and ran to the ambassador’s right side yelling something that sounded like anti-American sentiments.

“When the man jumped on the ambassador, I stood up and jumped on the man, and they both fell on the ground,” a witness, Jang Yoon Seok, told CNN affiliate YTN. “Luckily I got on top of the man’s back and could press him to the floor. Then others came to hold him on the floor.”

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