South Korean police on Friday said they are examining whether the man accused of assaulting an American diplomat has ties to North Korea.
Police arrested Lippert’s alleged assailant on Thursday and identified him as Kim Ki-jong, 55. They have since established Ki-jong visited North Korea seven times between 1999 and 2007.
“We are investigating whether there is any connection between the suspect’s visits to North Korea and the crime committed against the U.S. ambassador,” Yoon Myeong-seong, chief of police in Seoul’s central Jongno district, told Reuters Friday.
Police on Friday said they found books belonging to Ki-jong likely published in North Korea.
Ki-jong has denied ever visiting North Korea, and has called the alleged link between him and the country “nonsense.”
North and South Korea have remained bitter rivals since the Korean peninsula’s division in 1953. Ki-jong allegedly yelled about reunifying the two nations while rushing Lippert.
Pyongyang has praised Ki-jong’s attack on the ambassador. KCNA, North Korea’s official news agency, called the attack “just punishment” for U.S. military exercises with its southern rival.
Pyongyang hailed Lippert’s injuries as a valid “expression of resistance,” calling Ki-jong’s weapon “the knife of justice.”
U.S. and South Korean military forces often train together in an attempt to ready Seoul for North Korean aggression.
Ki-jong allegedly slashed Lippert’s face and hand. Though the injuries were not life-threatening, the diplomat required 80 stitches to his face.
Authorities in South Korea said Thursday they would try charging Ki-jong with Lippert’s attempted murder. He remains in custody.