Politicians and local media have referred to the incidents as “don’t ask why” attacks, due to the seemingly random targeting of victims and unclear motives behind the violence.
Following the attacks, dozens of threats to commit copycat crimes targeting Seoul and surrounding regions at specified times emerged online and were widely shared on social media.
Mr Kim said he “refrained from visiting the mentioned locations” and alerted those around him.
The threats should not be perceived as “mere pranks” and needed to be taken seriously, Mr Kim said.
“I hope for a peaceful world to come, and I wish to be able to go out and have fun without fear,” he said.
Life satisfaction levels near bottom
Jeongsook Yoon, director of crime analysis at the Korean Institute of Criminology, said it was “deeply concerning” that young individuals were the perpetrators in two of the recent stabbing incidents, as random crimes were typically committed by individuals in their 30s and 40s.
“Their primary motive for the crimes appears to be a pessimistic outlook on their circumstances,” she said.
Dr Yoon said statistics showed a rise in the number of socially isolated young people in South Korea.
“The Korean society has experienced significant economic disparities and income inequalities and educational gaps during its economic growth, and socially vulnerable individuals may experience feelings of inferiority and alienation,” she said.
“Consequently, their [young people’s] emotional wellbeing could deteriorate and exacerbating psychological issues, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
A report released in February this year showed South Korea ranked near the bottom in terms of life satisfaction levels among the 38 OECD nations, with rising suicide rates among young people.
The subway station attacker told press that “extreme hardship” drove him to the crime.
The shopping mall attacker reportedly had schizoid personality disorder but hadn’t received proper treatment, police said.
Dr Yoon said the Korean government did not have systematic data collection on indiscriminate attack crimes, making it hard to determine whether there was a rise in the rates of such crimes in South Korea.
The category of “crimes of abnormal motives” had only been officially created in 2022.
Following the attacks, President Yoon Suk-yeol called for a mobilisation of “all possible police forces” against potential copycat crimes.
The Korean National Police Agency said 120 people were apprehended for posting murder threats online.
The agency said the number of online threats surged following the stabbing attacks, where teens accounted for 52.3 per cent of the arrests.
Harsher punishments, more police
The stabbing attacks have led to calls for harsher punishments for violent crimes and stronger security measures.
In a “special police operation” launched following the attacks, police were allowed to “actively use physical force, including the use of firearms or stun guns” as thousands were dispatched to public sites.
The South Korean government also said that it would take steps to introduce life sentences without parole as a potential punishment for violent crimes.
Currently, Korea’s criminal law states that those sentenced to life in prison can be released on parole after 20 years of incarceration.
Jeongwon Kim, a 21-year-old student living in Seoul, said “severe punishment” could help to deter individuals from “imitating crimes or posting threats online as a joke”.
“I also wish the police had more power,” she said.
“Last week, I went to a crowded subway station, and police were stationed everywhere.
“It was good to see them working to prevent incidents rather than doing nothing.”
However, Dr Yoon said research indicated harsher punishment may not be the solution to random crimes.
“If you refer to the research that has been done in Western countries including Australia, the effect of the death penalty [on preventing such crimes] is not very good,” she said.
“In many cases, the [random attack crime] offenders are not afraid of punishment. They are in a state of recklessness. They want to just give up their lives.
“Granting more power to law enforcement agencies is just a short term solution — we have to think about fundamental and long-term solutions.”
Better mental health services were needed to support struggling individuals, Dr Yoon said.
“I think the Korean society needs to have a more preventative approach,” she said.
“We have to actually detect the isolated youth and provide social services, such as counselling services and referral to job training centres.”