|Habib House is the U.S. ambassador's residence in downtown Seoul. Yonhap|
By Oh Young-jin
What if it had been a terrorist?
That must be what crossed the mind of U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris.
About 10 p.m. on Sept. 3, an intruder was caught prowling Habib House, the U.S. ambassador's residence in downtown Seoul.
It is said Harris is not happy with the intrusion and the lack of adequate follow-up measures by Korean police.
The intruder proved to be a Korean-Chinese woman who arrived in Korea two days before the break-in.
|U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris. Korea Times|
When discovered in the house, she was reportedly speaking incoherently and making an unfounded claim that she was a relative of former President Lee Myung-bak, now in jail and being tried for corruption while in office, among other things.
It couldn't be confirmed whether the ambassador was at home when the intrusion happened. But he is said to be upset about what could have happened if the woman was an IS terrorist trained to harm him.
He is said to be dissatisfied with the Korean police response, not even offering written assurances promising no repetition of a similar incident.
The Namdaemun police station, which is handling the case, told The Korea Times that the suspect was released 48 hours after the incident and it was no big deal.
"Breaking in and entering is not a serious crime," a police officer said. "By law we could hold the woman for 48 hours. So we released her."
When asked whether there was any reason to request an extension, he said no.
He declined to answer a question about the chance of her disappearing, indicating there was no reason to keep track of her.
To say the least, the police action leaves a lot to be desired.
Harris' predecessor Mark Lippert was knifed by a man at a morning conference in Seoul on March 5, 2015. Lippert, a former Navy SEAL, narrowly escaped death, suffering a long gash on his face and hand. He did not recover full mobility in his hand.
The attacker was not registered and slipped into the meeting.
The latest incident had the potential to be like the Lippert attack or worse.
The U.S. embassy declined to reveal details but confirmed Harris' residence has a two-tiered surveillance and guard system ― the premises are covered by security guards on contract with it, while the Korean police guard the outside.
"We can't say how the person came into the premises and the probe is being handled by the police," an embassy official said.