U.S. Army Officer Attacked by Knife-Wielding South Koreans
SEOUL -- A U.S. Army officer has been attacked by knife-wielding South Korean men outside a U.S. base here amid simmering anti-American sentiment, military authorities said Monday.
Three South Koreans in their early 20s attacked the unarmed lieutenant colonel late Sunday as he left Yongsan, the main U.S. military base in central Seoul, and was walking to his home, the U.S. military said.
The officer was treated at a U.S. Army hospital for a cut on his left side and minor abrasions and bruises, it said. South Korean police were looking for the attackers, AFP reported.
It was the worst attack on U.S. military personnel since three soldiers were set upon by South Korean anti-U.S. protestors in a subway train in mid-September.
The unprovoked attack came amid growing anti-U.S. sentiment here sparked by the recent acquittal of two U.S. soldiers charged over the deaths of two South Korean girls in a road accident involving a U.S. military vehicle.
The target of Sunday's attack was Lieutenant Colonel Steven Boylan, the chief public affairs officer for the U.S. Eighth Army, a U.S. Army source told AFP.
The attack began when the three Koreans insulted the officer and cursed at him in English as they approached him in an underpass, according to the U.S. military statement.
The officer did not respond to the provocation, attempting to pass the Koreans peacefully, but they attacked him from behind, it said.
One of the Koreans then punched the officer between his shoulders, shoving him headfirst into the underpass wall, while a second man lunged at him, attempting to stab him in the stomach with a five-inch knife, it said.
"He was able to twist away, but sustained a minor cut to his left side where the knife grazed him," it said.
Boylan struck the knife-wielding attacker once in self-defense and was able to flee the scene. He was back at his desk Monday, feeling shaken and suffering from a headache, but declined to discuss the attack.
Last month two U.S. soldiers were cleared over the deaths of two 14-year-old girls crushed under a 50-ton track vehicle in June, fueling anti-U.S. feeling in South Korea, which hosts 37,000 U.S. troops under a mutual defense pact dating back to the 1950-53 Korean War.
Some 50,000 Koreans staged a candlelit march near the U.S. Embassy Saturday in memory of the girls, with radicals shredding U.S. flags and demanding the soldiers be tried in a Korean court.
Saturday's demonstration was the biggest to date, as anti-U.S. sentiment once largely confined to radical student groups has moved into mainstream politics.
Activists protesting the soldiers' acquittal have firebombed and broken into several U.S. bases in recent weeks.
U.S. soldiers have been banned from bars, nightclubs and restaurants in some areas of Seoul and elsewhere in South Korea.
The attack on Boylan was thought to be the first incident of its kind since the soldiers' acquittal in November.
However, attacks on U.S. soldiers have occurred sporadically over the years in South Korea.
In June 2000 a U.S. Army major was stabbed to death by a South Korean man in an entertainment and shopping district near the Yongsan base.
Late last year a female American soldier was set upon by a gang of Korean youths in southern Seoul but escaped with no serious injuries.
The subway attack in September was more serious and drew an official protest from the U.S. military and the U.S. Embassy after three soldiers were beaten and two of them abducted for several hours.
Hours before the attack on Boylan, police held and questioned three U.S. soldiers early Sunday after a scuffle with a taxi driver and South Korean passengers near the Yongsan base.
"I don't know if we can really say there is a trend of aggression against U.S. soldiers, but certainly we are concerned by these incidents," said Stephen Oertwig, a U.S. Army spokesman.
In a telephone conversation with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung Friday, U.S. President George W. Bush conveyed his "deep, personal sadness and regret" over the deaths of the girls. But the apology did little to ease the growing anti-U.S. sentiment here.
South Korean officials and candidates competing in Thursday's presidential election have urged the United States to revise the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that governs the legal status of the U.S. soldiers here.