US relists Houthis as terrorists in response to Red Sea attacks

Fresh attempt by Biden administration to stem attacks on international shipping

By Reuters

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A US Navy ship in the Red Sea on October 19, 2023 shot down missiles and drones that had been fired by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, possibly at Israel, the Pentagon said. — AFP file
A US Navy ship in the Red Sea on October 19, 2023 shot down missiles and drones that had been fired by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, possibly at Israel, the Pentagon said. — AFP file

Published: Wed 17 Jan 2024, 10:17 PM

Last updated: Wed 17 Jan 2024, 10:20 PM

The Biden administration on Wednesday returned the Yemen-based Houthi rebels to a list of terrorist groups, US officials said, in the latest attempt by Washington to stem attacks on international shipping.

Officials said the "Specially Designated Global Terrorist" (SDGT) designation, which hits the Iran-aligned group with harsh sanctions, was aimed at cutting off funding and weapons the Houthis have used to attack or hijack ships in vital Red Sea shipping lanes.

The Houthis' campaign has disrupted global commerce, stoked fears of inflation and deepened concern that fallout from the Israel-Hamas war could destabilize the Middle East.

"These attacks fit the textbook definition of terrorism," said one of three administration officials who briefed reporters ahead of the announcement on condition of anonymity.

The designation comes after American and British warplanes, ships and submarines last week launched dozens of air strikes against the Houthis, who control the most populous parts of Yemen.

The U.S. military on Tuesday carried out its latest strike against four Houthi anti-ship ballistic missiles, two U.S. officials told Reuters.

The Houthi militia movement, which says the attacks on commercial ships are aimed at supporting the Palestinians in Israel's war in Gaza, has threatened a "strong and effective response."

The attacks are part of a broad response to the Gaza conflict by a so-called Axis of Resistance - including the Houthis alongside Palestinian militants Hamas, Lebanon-based Hezbollah and Iraq's Shiite militias - with ties to U.S. adversary Iran.

"We will continue to counter and blunt Iranian malign influence wherever we can. So of course the choice to move away from Iran is now in the hands of the Houthis," said a second official, adding that the U.S. would consider lifting the designation if the attacks on shipping cease.

Blinken was on Wednesday relisting the Houthis as SDGTs, the US officials said, but not as a "foreign terrorist organisation," which includes stricter prohibitions on providing material support to those on the list and would mean automatic travel bans.

The former designation "provides better flexibility to achieve the aims that we have in terms of carving out and safeguarding humanitarian assistance," an official said, a reference to measures to mitigate the impact of the move on Yemen's people that Washington plans to introduce before the designation takes force in 30 days.


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