SEOUL — Three U.S. soldiers told military police they had come under fire from Arabs before admitting that one of them had been shot by South Korean police during a high-speed chase, Korean police said Monday.
Korean police said they received a call at 11:53 p.m. Saturday from a South Korean man who claimed foreigners were shooting at him on a busy sidewalk in front of the Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon.
When they went to investigate, South Korean police tried to capture the alleged perpetrator — a U.S. Army private first class — at a nearby Itaewon subway station. But the soldier reportedly fled the scene, along with a staff sergeant and a female corporal, police said.
Officers followed in a taxi to the Gwangjin district of eastern Seoul. They fired one warning shot and three live rounds at the car, injuring the private at around 12:10 a.m. Sunday.
The soldier was in stable condition Monday at U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan’s Brian Allgood Community Hospital, where he was being treated for a gunshot wound to his upper body, Eighth Army spokesman Col. Andrew Mutter said. He will be made available to South Korean police for questioning after doctors deem him medically ready, probably within the next few days, Mutter said.
The head detective at the Yongsan Police Station, briefing reporters on condition he not be identified, said one of the soldiers was believed to have been carrying a BB gun that fired plastic pellets. He said police have yet to find the alleged weapon.
Police would not say if he actually shot at passers-by, but South Korea’s Yonhap News, citing police sources, said plastic BB bullets were recovered at the scene and matched some that were found inside the soldier’s car. Police did not find the car until early Monday, Yonhap said.
Upon returning to Yongsan Garrison following the incident, the soldiers told U.S. military police that the private had been shot by an Arab person or persons, the detective said. The soldiers later admitted that the injured soldier had been shot by a South Korean police officer.
A police official on Sunday said the shooting was justified because officers felt threatened, though he would not provide details.
Yonhap reported that police chased the soldiers to a dead-end street, where the private tried to run over an officer, prompting the gunfire. The soldiers are expected to face charges for obstruction of official duties and traffic offenses.
The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency released a video, taken from inside a taxi, showing more than a half-dozen men leaning against a dark-colored car in an effort to stop it as it slowly drove away from the intersection in front of the Hamilton Hotel. It was unclear how many of the men were police officers, though most appeared to be in uniform.
The soldiers were not visible in the video.
Eighth Army’s deputy commander, Brig. Gen. Chris Gentry, and the garrison commander, Col. Michael Masley, visited the Yongsan police station on Sunday afternoon to apologize for the incident.
The staff sergeant has been interviewed by police. The detective said South Korean police do not believe the staff sergeant was drunk, but were unable to test the corporal and the soldier who was shot and do not know if they had been drinking.
Police said no civilians were hurt during the incident.