The United States will designate the Iran-backed Houthi militia as a terrorist organization, and three of its leaders as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs), US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an official statement on Monday.
“The Department of State will notify Congress of my intent to designate Ansarallah – sometimes referred to as the Houthis – as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, and as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) entity, pursuant to Executive Order 13224,” the statement cited Pompeo as saying.
“I also intend to designate three of Ansarallah’s leaders, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, Abd al-Khaliq Badr al-Din al-Houthi, and Abdullah Yahya al Hakim, as SDGTs,” the statement added.
The decision to designate the leaders as SDGTs “will provide additional tools to confront [the group’s] terrorist activity and terrorism,” and hold the Houthis accountable for their terrorist acts, according to Pompeo.
The move also comes as part of efforts to “achieve a peaceful, sovereign, and united Yemen that is both free from Iranian interference and at peace with its neighbors,” he added.
The Iran-backed militia has been leading a “brutal campaign” that has killed hundreds of people and destabilized the region, the statement revealed.
Last week, the Yemeni army killed and captured several Houthi militiamen after an infiltration attempt northwest of Saada.
The attempted attack came only a week after a missile was fired on Aden’s airport, killing at least 25 people and injuring over 100 others.
Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed told the Associated Press earlier this month that the “techniques” used in attack were hallmarks of the Houthis’ strategy.
“Rather than distance itself from the Iranian regime, it has embraced the world’s leading state-sponsor of terrorism even more.”
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) supplies the Houthis with missiles, drones, and training, allowing the group to target airports and other critical infrastructure, the statement said.
Iran backs the Houthis in Yemen’s civil war against the internationally-recognized government.
Yemen’s foreign ministry on Monday said it welcomes the US’ decision to designate the Houthis as a terrorist group, adding that the move aligns with the government’s efforts to punish the militia.
“After six years of war, and the imposition of numerous sanctions against individuals, we believe that all political and legal pressures on the Houthis should continue to escalate and intensify in order to create conditions conducive to a peaceful solution to the conflict,” Yemeni foreign minister Ahmad Awad bin Mubarak said in a statement.
The Iran-backed group should be classified as a foreign terrorist organization “not only for their terrorist acts, but also for their permanent efforts to prolong the conflict and cause the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world,” the minister added.
The group’s crimes include bombing civilian homes and places of worship, arresting and torturing journalists and political activists, using health and educational facilities for military purposes, destroying economic institutions in Yemen, as well as targeting civilians in Saudi Arabia, according to the foreign ministry.
Impact on humanitarian aid
Humanitarian groups had previously voiced concerns that such a move would impact efforts to provide humanitarian aid to hundreds of civilians in need in Yemen.
However, the US is planning to put in place measures that would reduce the impact on certain humanitarian activity and imports to Yemen, Pompeo said.
“We have expressed our readiness to work with relevant officials at the United Nations, with international and non-governmental organizations, and other international donors to address these implications.”
“As part of this effort, simultaneously with the implementation of these designations on January 19, 2021 the US Department of the Treasury is prepared to provide licenses pursuant to its authorities, and corresponding guidance that relate to the official activities of the United States government in Yemen, including assistance programming that continues to be the largest of any donor and the official activities of certain international organizations such as the United Nations,” the statement said.
The Yemeni government is aware that humanitarian groups have expressed concerns that the designation could have “unintended consequences” on both the peace process and the current humanitarian situation, the Yemeni foreign ministry said in a statement.
However, the ministry added that “it is the continuous and blatant interference of the Houthis that has impeded humanitarian relief efforts, and this classification as a foreign terrorist organization should be viewed as an effective tool to stop their disgraceful behavior, which negatively affects the conduct of relief and humanitarian operations.”