President Biden will redesignate Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis as a terrorist group — three years after removing them from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations list — in response to repeated attacks on shipping vessels in the Red Sea.
The Houthis will be placed on the Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) list, which will trigger sanctions designed to prevent further attacks on global trade in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, according to senior administration officials.
“These attacks are a clear example of terrorism and a violation of international law and a major threat to life, global commerce, and they jeopardize the delivery of humanitarian assistance,” a senior administration official told reporters on Tuesday.
The decision comes as the Houthis have launched dozens of attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea. The group said the attacks are in response to Israel’s military campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. On Tuesday, Houthi fighters launched anti-ship ballistic missiles from Yemen into the Red Sea.
BIDEN ADMINISTRATION TO RELIST YEMEN’S IRAN-BACKED HOUTHIS AS DESIGNATED TERRORISTS AMID RED SEA ATTACKS
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) (AP)
“We’ve taken this action to pressure the Houthis to cease their terrorist activities, including missile and drone attacks against international shipping. The ultimate goal of sanctions is to convince the Houthis to de-escalate and bring about a positive change in behavior,” the official said.
The terrorist designation is set to take effect in 30 days. Officials emphasized that commercial shipments of food, medicine and fuel into Yemeni ports will be exempted so as not to deny humanitarian aid to the Yemeni people amid the civil war between the Houthis and the country’s internationally recognized, Saudi-backed government,
“The administration is prioritizing the mitigation of unintended adverse impacts from this designation that may otherwise arise for the people of Yemen,” a second official said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken delisted the Houthis as both a foreign terrorist organization and as specially designated global terrorists in February 2021 as the Biden administration sought to make it easier to get humanitarian aid into Yemen.
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President Joe Biden said he ordered the strikes “in direct response to unprecedented Houthi attacks against international maritime vessels in the Red Sea.” (U.S. Central Command)
The move was a reversal of former President Trump‘s decision to place the Houthis on the FTO list over the strong objections of human rights and humanitarian aid groups in the waning days of his presidency.
The foreign terrorist designation barred Americans and people and organizations subject to U.S. jurisdiction from providing “material support” to the Houthis, which the groups said would result in an even greater humanitarian catastrophe than what was already happening in Yemen.
An SDGT designation will also freeze Houthi assets, but unlike the FTO designation, it will not impose immigration restrictions on members, according to the State Department. The SDGT sanctions also will not touch people and organizations who provide “material support” to the Houthis.
“It was the correct step in 2021 to revoke the foreign terrorist organization and SDGT designations for the Houthis,” an administration official said, adding that Blinken made that decision “in recognition of a very dire humanitarian situation in Yemen.”
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According to officials, the SDGT designation is part of a “broader effort” to deter the Houthi attacks along with military action.
The recent Houthi attacks in the Red Sea have disrupted global shipping. Linda Thomas Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said last week that 2,000 ships since November have been forced to divert thousands of miles to avoid the Red Sea.
Houthi militants have threatened or taken hostage mariners from more than 20 countries.
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On Tuesday, U.S. forces struck and destroyed four Houthi anti-ship ballistic missiles that were prepared to launch from Yemen, CENTCOM said.
“The recent attacks since November are really unacceptable,” the official said. “We cannot sit idly by and watch what the Houthis are doing in the Red Sea and not recognize their actions for what they are.”
Fox News Digital’s Louis Casiano, Jacqui Heinrich and The Associated Press contributed to this report.