WASHINGTON: The Biden administration on Wednesday returned the Yemen-based Al 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.
When an individual or entity is designated as an SDGT, it means that they are subject to various sanctions, and their assets are frozen.
Additionally, Americans are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions or dealings with these designated individuals or entities.
The US government uses this designation to combat global terrorism by targeting and isolating individuals and organisations that are believed to be involved in terrorist activities, providing a legal framework to take action against them and disrupt their support networks.
It’s worth noting that other countries and international organizations may have similar mechanisms and designations to address the global threat of terrorism.
Designating individuals or entities as SDGT is part of a broader effort to enhance international security and counteract the financing and support of terrorist activities.
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 US military on Tuesday carried out its latest strike against four Houthi anti-ship ballistic missiles, two US 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 US 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 US would consider lifting the designation if the attacks on shipping cease.
A Saudi Arabia-led Arab military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Houthis.
The Trump administration added the Houthis to two lists designating them as terrorists a day before its term ended, prompting the United Nations, aid groups and some US lawmakers to express fears that sanctions would disrupt flows of food, fuel and other commodities into Yemen.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on February 12, 2021, revoked the designations in “recognition of the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen.” The United Nations describes the humanitarian crisis in Yemen as “severe” with more than 21 million people “ two thirds of the population “ in need of aid. It says more than 80% of the population struggles to access food, safe drinking water and adequate health services.
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.