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지나쌤

Second attack on politician amplifies safety concerns as election looms

Rep. Bae Hyun-jin's attacker sent to mental health treatment facility; Yoon calls incident 'act of terrorism'

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : Jan. 26, 2024 - 15:51

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Surveillance footage of the attack on Rep. Bae Hyun-jin (Bae's office) Surveillance footage of the attack on Rep. Bae Hyun-jin (Bae's office)

A teenager's attack against a ruling party lawmaker on Thursday, which came less than a month after a stabbing incident involving the main opposition leader, has fueled worries over the safety of politicians ahead of April's general election.

People Power Party Rep. Bae Hyun-jin remained hospitalized as of Friday afternoon after the 41-year-old lawmaker was repeatedly struck in the head with a blunt object by a teenage assailant in Gangnam-gu the previous day.

Bae was rushed to hospital and received stitches after suffering a "1-centimeter laceration" on her scalp, the neurosurgeon who performed the surgery told reporters. The injury was not life-threatening, the surgeon added.

An official in Bae's office, who declined to be named, said that Bae has been showing symptoms of dizziness and expressing additional pain as of Friday, making it difficult for her to leave the hospital for the time being.

President Yoon Suk Yeol, lawmakers and observers on Friday expressed concern over the latest attack, with many calling it "an act of terrorism."

In a statement released by Han O-sub, the president's senior secretary for political affairs, Yoon stressed that "terrorism against politicians, who represent the people, is no different from terrorism against the public." Yoon wished Bae a swift recovery.

National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo echoed Yoon's words, saying, "Such acts of violence should not be condoned under any circumstances." He warned that "political terrorism is a challenge to democracy."

Hong Ihk-pyo, the floor leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, condemned the incident, labeling it as "clear political terror."

"We call upon the authorities to implement special measures addressing the ongoing series of unfortunate incidents (which have occurred since) the beginning of the year," Hong emphasized.

Lee Jae-myung, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, lies on the ground after being stabbed in the left side of his neck during a visit to the construction site of an airport on Gadeok Island near Busan, Jan. 2. (Yonhap) Lee Jae-myung, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, lies on the ground after being stabbed in the left side of his neck during a visit to the construction site of an airport on Gadeok Island near Busan, Jan. 2. (Yonhap)

Thursday's attack is the second of its kind against a politician during the campaign season ahead of this year's general election.

Democratic Party of Korea Chair Lee Jae-myung was stabbed in the neck by an assailant posing as an autograph seeker when visiting an airport construction site off the coast of Busan on Jan. 2. Lee was released from the hospital earlier this month after receiving surgery on a vein in his neck.

Experts expressed concerns that the latest attacks could ignite a chain reaction of similar crimes and called for authorities to put stronger safety measures in place.

"Thursday's attack seems like a copycat crime of the earlier stabbing attack against Lee Jae-myung with the motive seemingly aimed at garnering attention," Oh Yoon-sung, a professor of police administration at Soonchunhyang University, told The Korea Herald.

"Such crimes should be prevented by increasing the number of bodyguards or other safety measures in the timeframe leading up to and after the election," he added.

The Seoul Gangnam Police Station said Friday that the teenage suspect, whose identity has been withheld by officials but who is reported to be 15 years old, has been sent to a mental health treatment facility.

The authorities hinted that the suspect was suffering from psychological issues, saying that he was sent to the facility in consideration of "his current state of health and minor status."

The teenage suspect also confessed to police that the attack against Bae was not planned. He had reportedly left his house two hours before the assault which occurred around 5:18 p.m. on Thursday, in hopes of encountering his favorite celebrity. The suspect had been awaiting admission to a mental health treatment program due to severe depression.

Police are currently investigating the suspect's cellphone messages, social media accounts and criminal records to verify his confession.

The police conducted a victim interview with Bae at Soonchunhyang University Hospital on Friday morning. Bae expressed her desire for the assailant to face legal consequences.

The Korean National Policy Agency also announced its commitment to enhancing security measures for key political figures.

The police are reviewing plans to promptly deploy protection teams to ensure the safety of Lee Jun-seok, the founding leader of the new Reform Party, and Lee Nak-yon, a former leader of the Democratic Party and a former prime minister.

The police said they have already established a dedicated "Close Protection Team" tasked with safeguarding the leaders of both the Democratic Party and the People Power Party.