US designates Yemen’s Houthis as ‘global terrorists’

Houthi spokesperson says designation would not affect the group’s attacks on ships it says are linked to Israel.

Houthis in Yemen
Houthi fighters and supporters protest against recent US-led strikes on Yemen [Khaled Abdullah/Reuters]

The United States government has announced it is once again designating Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a “terrorist” organisation.

Washington’s move on Wednesday to relist the group as “specially designated global terrorists” comes after the US launched strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen in response to the rebels’ attacks on vessels in the Red Sea.

These attacks by the Iran-allied group since November have disrupted maritime trade between Asia and Europe.

The Houthis say their attacks are aimed at ships with links to Israel and they will continue attacking targets until Israel’s war on Gaza stops.

“In response to these continuing threats and attacks, the United States announced the designation of Ansarallah, also known as the Houthis, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist,” White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement.

“This designation is an important tool to impede terrorist funding to the Houthis, further restrict their access to financial markets, and hold them accountable for their actions.”

The designation does not take effect for 30 days, US officials said.

“If the Houthis cease their attacks in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, the United States will immediately re-evaluate this designation,” Sullivan said.

Speaking after the announcement, Houthi spokesperson Mohammed Abdulsalam said the designation would not affect the group’s operations to prevent Israeli ships or ships heading to Israel from crossing the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea and the Bab al-Mandeb Strait.

The group will “not back down in its position in support of the Palestinian people”, he told Al Jazeera.

‘People of Yemen should not pay’

The US previously designated the Houthis as a “foreign terrorist organisation” under former President Donald Trump’s administration despite strong objections from human rights and humanitarian aid groups.

In February 2021, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken delisted the Houthis as a “foreign terrorist organisation” and as “specially designated global terrorists” as the administration of current US President Joe Biden sought to make it easier to get humanitarian aid into Yemen.

The designation is being reinstated “to make sure international commerce is protected”, Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett said, reporting from Washington, DC.

“It will trigger sanctions for anyone or any state or entity that now tries to provide material support for the Houthis. We know that they are an Iranian-backed group, so Iran, for example, could be now subject to more sanctions. It means that members of the Houthi group would be banned from entering the United States and any Houthi funds that are in US financial institutions would be frozen,” she added.

US officials said they would design the financial penalties to minimise harm to Yemen’s 32 million people, who are among the world’s poorest and hungriest after years of war between the Houthis and a Saudi-led coalition that supports Yemen’s internationally recognised government.

“The people of Yemen should not pay the price for the actions of the Houthis,” Sullivan’s statement said. “We are sending a clear message: commercial shipments into Yemeni ports on which the Yemeni people rely for food, medicine and fuel should continue and are not covered by our sanctions.”

In a statement, Blinken added: “During the 30-day implementation delay, the US government will conduct robust outreach to stakeholders, aid providers, and partners who are crucial to facilitating humanitarian assistance and the commercial import of critical commodities in Yemen.”

However, aid officials have expressed concern. The decision would add “another level of uncertainty and threat for Yemenis still caught in one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises”, Oxfam America Associate Director Scott Paul said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies