July 20, 2024

A 14-year-old boy who attacked a South Korean lawmaker with a rock has been sent to a mental health facility, police have said, as they continued to investigate the incident that left the politician, Bae Hyun-jin, with cuts to her head.

The suspect was arrested at the scene of the attack in southern Seoul on Friday and sent to a hospital after he was interviewed in the presence of his parents, said Cheon Young-gil, an official at Seoul’s Gangnam district police station.

Thursday’s attack came weeks after a man stabbed the opposition leader Lee Jae-myung in the neck in the southern city of Busan, raising further concerns about the country’s intensely polarised politics.

Security camera footage showed the suspect, wearing a grey skullcap and a mask, approaching Bae inside the hallway of a building and seemingly initiating a conversation before striking her with what appeared to be a small rock.

He continued to strike Bae with the object even after she fell down. The video shows Bae resisting alone, waving her arms and grabbing the teenager’s wrist, before another person appears and attempts to intervene.

Bae was taken to hospital where doctors said she had avoided serious injury. Her office released photos of her blood-spattered coat and sweater, which were reportedly presented to the police as evidence.

Cheon refused to discuss health details of the suspect. South Korea’s laws allow for emergency admissions in which a person suspected of mental illness can be hospitalised for a maximum of three days if there is concern that the person could inflict harm on other people or themselves.

“The emergency admission was based on consideration of the suspect’s age and his health condition,” Cheon said without elaborating. He said police could seek to extend the boy’s admission at the hospital after the initial three days if his parents agreed.

Bae, a former television news presenter, was elected in 2020 and is seen as a close confidante of the president, Yoon Suk Yeol. Yoon’s office issued a statement calling the attack on Bae an “unacceptable incident that must be sternly investigated”.

Park Sukh Que, a neurosurgeon at the Soonchunhyang University Seoul hospital, said Bae sustained minor head injuries including scratches and a cut and arrived in a stable condition. The force of the attack had caused Bae to fall on her back but there were no signs of a concussion or internal bleeding, Park said.

“Fortunately, the bleeding wasn’t very serious,” Park said at a news conference. “She does have a headache and she’s showing a bit of anxiousness after being shaken by the attack.”

The motive of the attack was not immediately clear.

The man who attacked Lee on 2 January told investigators after his arrest that he wanted to kill him to prevent him from becoming a future president. Lee was discharged from hospital after eight days of treatment.

“My scar is aching again after this unbelievable incident,” Lee said of the attack on Bae, calling it an act of “political terrorism” that must not be tolerated. “There needs to be a thorough and decisive response. We pray for a speedy recovery for lawmaker Bae and our hearts go out to her family.” .

Han Dong-hoon, the leader of the governing People Power party, called for a thorough investigation and for the attacker to be “sternly punished”.

Thae Yong Ho, another lawmaker from the party, described the attack as a “serious challenge” to South Korea’s democracy. “Politics of hate, anger and violence must be put to an end,” said Thae, a former North Korean diplomat who defected to South Korea in 2016.


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