Biden administration expected to re-designate Houthis as a global terrorist entity

Houthi fighters and tribesmen stage a rally against the U.S. and the U.K. strikes on Houthi-run military sites near Sanaa, Yemen, on Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024. (AP Photo)

Houthi fighters and tribesmen stage a rally against the US and the UK strikes on Houthi-run military sites near Sanaa, Yemen, on Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024. (AP Photo)APCNN — 

The Biden administration is expected to re-designate the Houthis as a specially designated global terrorist (SDGT) entity amid continued attacks by the Yemen-based militia, a source familiar told CNN Tuesday.

The expected move comes after the US carried out a series of military strikes against the Iranian-backed group, and as the specter of a wider regional war in the Middle East looms large.

The administration removed the Houthis’ SDGT designation and de-listed it as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) in February 2021, after it was designated by the Trump administration in its final weeks.

At the time, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the decision to remove the group’s designations was driven by concerns that it could imperil the ability to deliver crucial assistance to the people of Yemen. He said it was “a recognition of the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen.”

However, pressure grew on the administration to reimpose the designations after the Houthis carried out scores of attacks and seized a commercial vessel and its crew in what they claim is retaliation for the Israeli military offensive in Gaza. The attacks have had consequences for the global economy as they have effectively closed one of the world’s main trade routes to most container ships.

As of Tuesday, the administration was not reimposing the FTO designation.

Both the SDGT and FTO designations trigger an asset freeze, but only an FTO designation imposes immigration restrictions on members, according to the State Department. The SDGT designation also does not impose sanctions on those who provide “material support” to the group.

Last Thursday, the United States and the United Kingdom launched strikes against Houthi targets in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.

President Joe Biden said he ordered the strikes “in direct response to unprecedented Houthi attacks against international maritime vessels in the Red Sea,” adding that he would “not hesitate to direct further measures to protect our people and the free flow of international commerce as necessary.”

The US has carried out at least two sets of strikes against the Houthis in the days since.

Administration officials have repeatedly said that they see these actions as defensive rather than escalatory.

“When the Houthis started these attacks, we pressed very hard for them to stop, but without escalation of any kind,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNBC Tuesday. “This has been an attack on international commerce, international shipping, not an attack on Israel, not an attack on the United States. That’s why more than 40 countries came together to condemn what the Houthis were doing. It’s why other countries came together to say, if this continues, there are going to be consequences, not for purposes of escalating, but for purposes of getting them to stop.”

“We’ve not wanted to see escalation anywhere since October 7,” he said. “We’re working every single day to prevent it, including in the Red Sea.”

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