An apparently random stabbing attack in a commuter town near Seoul, the second such rampage in South Korea in less than two weeks, has sparked fear in a country that has long been considered safe with a low murder rate and strict firearm curbs.
A man rammed his car into passersby, then got out and stabbed multiple people in a shopping mall in Seongnam on Thursday, police said. He was arrested on site, leaving 14 people wounded, two in critical condition.
The unexplained rampage came days after another rare stabbing attack in Seoul, which killed one person and wounded three others.
“I’ve always been telling my kids to be careful when they go abroad due to gun fears, but now I’m more scared of being in South Korea,” Lee Young-ja, a 78-year-old Seongnam resident who fled after hearing people screaming during Thursday’s incident, told Reuters.
Another resident in the area, Choi Jun-ho, 26, said he was staying extra vigilant on his way to work on Friday morning, near the mall where the stabbing took place.
“It’s unnerving,” Choi said. “Something like this could happen right next to me.”
President Yoon Suk Yeol called the incident an act of terrorism against innocent citizens and ordered the police to mobilize all available resources to ease public concerns.
On social media, a list of copycat attack threats was circulating.
“I’ve been telling my family and friends to stay home,” a 31-year-old Seoul resident said. She spoke on condition of anonymity due to fears for her safety.
“I hope people posting those threats all get tracked down and harshly punished.”
Police Commissioner General Yoon Hee-keun warned South Koreans on Thursday to be on guard for such attacks and told officials to be vigilant.
Experts said there was a risk similar crimes could follow and urged authorities to swiftly analyse patterns in recent rampage crimes to come up with countermeasures.
“The suspects not having clear motives doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s no way to prevent these crimes,” Kim Do-woo, a police science professor at Kyungnam University, said.
For example, police should closely monitor and proactively intervene when there are reports of suspicious acts in crowded public areas, as both of the stabbing attacks in recent weeks took place near subway stations, Kim said.