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South Korean opposition leader’s stabbing prompts false posts about attacker’s weapon

In Europe
January 09, 2024

After South Korea’s main opposition Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung was stabbed in his neck on January 2, a false claim circulated online that the attacker used a chopstick — not a knife — to injure the former presidential candidate. South Korean police dismissed the claims and said the suspect used a knife to carry out the attack, while medical professionals confirmed the wound was inflicted by a blade. AFP found the posts misrepresented images from the attack captured by local media. 

The false claim was shared here on Facebook on January 3, 2024, one day after Lee was stabbed in his neck during a trip to a construction site in the southern city of Busan.

The post suggests that although Lee’s attacker was holding a knife in his left hand, he stabbed the opposition leader with a chopstick in his right hand.

“A knife in his left hand and a chopstick in his right,” the post reads, alongside a collage of three images.

“Is that why Lee rode a helicopter to Seoul, because the chopstick only made a 1cm injury?”

The post refers to an early police statement about the attack that said Lee’s wound had a length of about one centimetre (archived link).

The largest photo in the misleading collage shows the suspect being subdued. It depicts him holding a weapon in his right hand alongside superimposed Korean-language text that translates to English as, “You call this a knife?” 

Above the image in the top right-hand corner, it reads “Before the crime, the assailant was holding a knife in his left hand.”

Above the bottom right-hand image, it reads: “In other words, the assailant had a wooden chopstick in his right hand and a knife in left hand.”

Additional text in the collage reads, “Therefore, the suspect held a wooden chopstick in his right hand, and a knife in (his) left.”

<span>Screenshot of the misleading claim shared on Facebook. Captured January 4, 2024</span>” data-src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/EzondWMA8YhpYR4Eh2Slbw–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTE1ODU-/https://media.zenfs.com/en/afp_factcheck_us_713/3552c1298c7e0c19cb3af6da5038d411″><noscript><img alt=Screenshot of the misleading claim shared on Facebook. Captured January 4, 2024” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/EzondWMA8YhpYR4Eh2Slbw–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTE1ODU-/https://media.zenfs.com/en/afp_factcheck_us_713/3552c1298c7e0c19cb3af6da5038d411″ class=”caas-img”>

Screenshot of the misleading claim shared on Facebook. Captured January 4, 2024

Lee was surrounded by journalists during a visit to a construction site in Busan when a man pretending to be a supporter pushed through the crowd and lunged at him, stabbing him in his jugular vein.

He was first taken to a hospital in Busan, then flown to the capital Seoul where he underwent a two-hour operation, which doctors announced on January 4 was successful in closing his wounds (archived link).

Similar false claims about the attack were also shared repeatedly on Facebook here, here, here, here as well as here on X.

But the police dismissed the claims as “misinformation”, saying Lee was stabbed with a knife, local media reported (archived link). Medical professionals who tended to him said his wound was inflicted by a blade.

Police, doctors said knife was used

Police investigating the attack said Lee was stabbed with a “climbing knife” around 17 centimetres long and with a blade of around 12.5 centimetres.

“After conducting a forensic analysis on the knife, we confirmed that the blood on the weapon matched Lee’s blood,” police said, adding the suspect is believed to have modified the knife to facilitate the crime (archived link).

In a live press briefing on January 4 following Lee’s surgery, Lee’s surgeon at Seoul National University Hospital also said his neck had a “stab wound of around 1.4 centimetres in length…inflicted by a knife” (archived link).  

Ryu Sam-young, a former police chief and recent DP recruit who was noted by local media for leading the immediate response to the attack, told AFP he saw nothing resembling a chopstick or a similar object at the scene (archived link).

Misrepresented image

The person seen in the top right image holding a knife is a police officer, not the suspect. 

Kim Ju-hwan, a reporter for the online newspaper Seoul Shinmun, took the photo that matches the second image in the collage. His photo was published in the newspaper’s report on January 2 (archived link).

“The person in the photo is a police officer who had recovered the weapon after the suspect had already been subdued – not the suspect himself,” Kim told AFP on January 3, adding that he saw no other weapon at the scene.  

Seoul Shinmun deliberately cropped the upper half of the photo to conceal the police officer’s identity, Kim explained.  

The image’s caption reads, “The knife believed to be the weapon used to attack Democratic Party chairman Lee Jae-myung.”

Below is a screenshot comparison of the photo shared in the misleading social media posts (left) and the original photo taken by Seoul Shinmun (right):

<span>Screenshot comparison of the photo shared in the misleading social media posts (left) and the original photo taken by Seoul Shinmun (right)</span>” data-src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/AORaIE6w0dkWjurUbIaiuA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTMzMA–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/afp_factcheck_us_713/4d288b59786772325cec04756bf5fcc0″><noscript><img alt=Screenshot comparison of the photo shared in the misleading social media posts (left) and the original photo taken by Seoul Shinmun (right)” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/AORaIE6w0dkWjurUbIaiuA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTMzMA–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/afp_factcheck_us_713/4d288b59786772325cec04756bf5fcc0″ class=”caas-img”>

Screenshot comparison of the photo shared in the misleading social media posts (left) and the original photo taken by Seoul Shinmun (right)

The person holding the knife in the Seoul Shinmun photo is wearing navy blue cargo pants — consistent with police uniforms. 

Attack footage

The image on the left side of the collage was a screenshot taken from the 1:01:10 mark of YouTube livestream footage of the attack captured by Jeong Yang-il TV, a channel operated by one of Lee’s supporters (archived link).

The scene shows police officers tackling the suspect — pictured holding an object in his right hand — to the ground moments after stabbing Lee in the neck.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the image shared in the misleading post (left) and the corresponding frame from the original YouTube video (right):

<span>Screenshot comparison of the largest photo shared in the misleading post (left) and the corresponding frame from the original YouTube video (right)</span>” data-src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/lUGqZ.tiBMJNIqmYxmSDhA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTQwNw–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/afp_factcheck_us_713/6b17c070aa1d9a04aca8c69529ee44d0″><noscript><img alt=Screenshot comparison of the largest photo shared in the misleading post (left) and the corresponding frame from the original YouTube video (right)” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/lUGqZ.tiBMJNIqmYxmSDhA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTQwNw–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/afp_factcheck_us_713/6b17c070aa1d9a04aca8c69529ee44d0″ class=”caas-img”>

Screenshot comparison of the largest photo shared in the misleading post (left) and the corresponding frame from the original YouTube video (right)

The image at the bottom of the misleading collage shows a police officer holding the knife, as seen from other live footage of the event published by Kim Un-seon TV, a YouTube channel run by a Lee supporter (archived link).

The image matches the livestream’s footage starting from 56:52 mark, around three minutes after the suspect had stabbed Lee.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the third photo shared in the misleading post (left) and the original footage published by Kim Un-seon TV (right): 

<span>Screenshot comparison of the third photo shared in the misleading post (left) and the original footage published by Kim Un-seon TV (right): </span>” data-src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/fb82JhZi_cxVsF.g6gaivw–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTI5NA–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/afp_factcheck_us_713/37fd06773fb1b6d1809de9a0dd91824a”><noscript><img alt=Screenshot comparison of the third photo shared in the misleading post (left) and the original footage published by Kim Un-seon TV (right): ” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/fb82JhZi_cxVsF.g6gaivw–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTI5NA–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/afp_factcheck_us_713/37fd06773fb1b6d1809de9a0dd91824a” class=”caas-img”>

Screenshot comparison of the third photo shared in the misleading post (left) and the original footage published by Kim Un-seon TV (right):

The footage shows police officers appearing to search the suspect for his weapon, and a person can be heard saying “Here, I found the knife.”

The officer can again be seen holding the knife at the video’s 57:12 mark.

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