Seoul, South Korea:
South Korean opposition leader Lee Jae-myung narrowly escaped death when he was stabbed in the neck, a party lawmaker said Wednesday, as police were granted a warrant to search his assailant’s property.
Lee was surrounded by journalists in southern Busan city Tuesday when a man pretending to be a supporter pushed through a crowd and then lunged at him, stabbing him on the left side of his neck with a knife.
Lee, who suffered a wound to his jugular vein, was first taken to hospital in Busan, then flown to the capital Seoul where he underwent a two-hour surgery. He is currently recovering in the intensive care unit.
“Busan medical staff stated that if the attacker’s knife had struck Lee’s carotid artery he could have been killed instantly at the scene,” Democratic Party lawmaker Jung Chung-rae said during a party meeting Wednesday.
“Lee is currently recovering in intensive care but the situation is so serious that visiting is difficult,” he added.
Kang Cheong-hee, a medical doctor and a member of the Democratic Party, later said Lee suffered “a severe injury”.
According to the Yonhap news agency, police said Wednesday that they planned to seek an arrest warrant for the 66-year-old suspect, identified only by his surname Kim, who was detained at the scene.
The warrant would allow police to continue to hold the suspect.
A district court issued a warrant to search the suspect’s house and office as part of the investigation, Yonhap said, adding that police will focus on finding the exact motive behind the attack.
South Korean authorities plan to bring attempted murder charges against the assailant, and the attacker told the police, according to Yonhap, that his intention was to kill Lee.
“The assailant’s confession that he had meant to kill is utterly shocking,” lawmaker Jung said.
In footage aired on South Korean television stations, police were seen wrestling the suspect, who displayed a pro-Lee slogan, to the ground.
The 59-year-old politician was “walking to his car while talking to reporters when the attacker asked for his autograph”, a witness told local broadcaster YTN.
According to Yonhap, suspect Kim had been working as a real estate agent in South Chungcheong Province, around 115 kilometres south of Seoul.
Citing delivery messages for registered mail from banks at his office, among other materials, Yonhap reported Kim had been facing financial difficulties and was unable to pay the monthly rent for the office for seven months.
South Korea is gearing up for a crucial election on April 10, in which Yoon’s conservative party aims to regain a parliamentary majority for the first time since 2016.
For the opposition democratic party, a victory in the general election is seen as a critical prerequisite for preparing for the next presidential election in 2027.
Lee has faced some calls from within his own party to step down as its leader ahead of the April general election.
Misinformation about the attack on Lee was circulating online, with some claiming the entire incident was staged — claims that lawmaker Jung said were “cruel and corrupt”.
“Headlines such as ‘Fake blood with a fake knife’ and ‘YouTubers bring up conspiracy theories’ make me question how much more cruel and corrupt people can be,” he added.
Several high-profile South Korean politicians have been attacked in public in past years.
An elderly man hit Song Young-gil, who led the Democratic Party before Lee, in the head with a blunt object in 2022.
In 2006, Park Geun-hye, then the leader of the conservative party and who later became president, was assaulted with a knife at a rally. The attack left a scar on her face.
Lee lost in 2022 to conservative Yoon Suk Yeol in the tightest presidential race in South Korea’s history.
A former child factory worker who suffered an industrial accident as a teenage school drop-out, Lee rose to political stardom partly by playing up his rags-to-riches tale.
He is widely expected to run for president again in 2027, and recent polls have indicated that he remains a strong contender.
But his bid for the top office has been overshadowed by a string of scandals, and he still faces trial on charges of bribery in connection with a firm that is suspected of illicitly transferring $8 million to North Korea.
Five individuals connected to Lee’s various scandals in the past have been found dead, many in what appeared to be suicides.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)