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Lee Jae-myung, leader of the Democratic Party of Korea delivers a memorial speech during a memorial event of the first anniversary of Itaewon Halloween crowd crush on 29 October 2023 in Seoul, South Korea. Lee was stabbed in the neck by an unidentified man wielding a 7-inch knife on 2 January 2024. (Photo by Chris Jung/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

South Korean Opposition Leader Stabbed in the Neck

Lee Jae-myung, a South Korean politician, was stabbed in the neck on 2 January when an unidentified man approached while Lee was walking through a crowd of journalists and other people in Busan. Lee had been speaking to reporters after a visit to a construction site in Busan’s port.

In video footage, the man, whose identity has not yet been released, approached Lee and appears to ask for his autograph. The attacker then used a 7-inch knife to stab him in the left side of his neck, according to official statements made during a news briefing.

People in the crowd subdued the attacker until police were able to detain him, according to the Associated Press.

Lee, 59, “was airlifted to a Seoul hospital after receiving emergency treatment in Busan,” the AP reported. Officials said Lee was unconscious after the attack and was not considered to be in critical condition. After a two-hour vascular reconstruction surgery that repaired his jugular vein, Lee is recovering in an intensive care unit at the Seoul National University Hospital.

Follow up on Investigation

“Officers confirmed to The Associated Press that police are expected to request that the suspect be formally arrested for alleged attempted murder because he told investigators he intended to kill Lee,” the AP reported.  

President Yoon Suk Yeol was concerned after hearing about the attack and has ordered authorities to investigate the incident, condemning the attack.  

About Lee

Lee is the leader of the main opposition Democratic Party in South Korea and holds a seat in South Korea’s National Assembly—the legislative body of the nation. In 2022, he lost the presidential election to Yoon, and since then he has harshly criticized the president’s policies.

Lee has recently been facing various allegations of corruption and his business dealings are under investigation—some of the issues dating back to when he was a mayor of the city of Seongnam between 2010 and 2018, as well as spending decisions made while Lee was governor of Gyeonggi between 2018 and 2021. Lee, a former labor lawyer, has denied all allegations of wrongdoing.

He is expected to run in the upcoming 2027 presidential election.

Security Around Political Figures

Though rare, there have been several attacks on political figures in recent years. “Although South Korea has strict gun laws, politicians have been attacked with other weapons, and there is normally a police presence at major events involving high-profile leaders,” Al Jazeera reported.

In March 2022, Song Young-gil (then-leader of the Democratic Party), survived an attack by a man armed with a hammer during a campaign rally for Lee. Then-U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert’s face and arm were sliced open by an anti-American activist in Seoul in 2015. And in 2006, Park Geun-hye (who at the time was the leader of the conservative Grand National Party) was slashed on her face by a man with a box cutter during an election rally, a wound that required 60 stitches.

Kwon Chil-seung, a spokesperson for the Democratic Party called the attack one of terror and a challenge to democracy, while party supporters called for a security detail dedicated to protecting political leaders, The Guardian reported.

Separate from attacks on political figures, South Korea has recently also been grappling with incidents of mass stabbings.

“In South Korea, they are known as ‘Don’t Ask Why’ or Mudjima crimes—inexplicable acts of violence targeting strangers, driven by no personal link to victims or obvious motive,” according to the BBC News. Official figures determined that in the first half of 2023, there were 18 Mudjima attacks. “While overall data shows no rise in violent crime—South Korea last year in fact recorded its lowest rates in a decade—the recent stabbings have driven the perception that Mudjima acts are more common, and society more dangerous.”

Two seemingly motiveless attacks, generated by different attackers, occurred over the summer of 2023. On 21 July, a knife attack at a subway station left one person dead and three more injured. On 2 August, a man drove his car into pedestrians near a subway station, injuring 14 people. He then ran into a store and stabbed nine people, including one woman who later died from her injuries.