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US to Classify Yemen’s Houthis as Terrorists
Fighters loyal to Yemen's Houthi rebels raise their fists and chant slogans as they visit the grave of slain Houthi political leader Saleh al-Sammad at al-Sabeen Square in the capital Sanaa, on January 11, 2021. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP via Getty Images)

US to Classify Yemen’s Houthis as Terrorists

State Department to so designate Tehran-backed rebels on day before Trump leaves office

Washington intends to classify the Iran-backed Houthi group in Yemen a “foreign terrorist organization.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said late Sunday the classification “aims to hold the Houthis accountable for their terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks, which threaten the civilian population, infrastructure and commercial shipping.

“I also intend to include three Houthi leaders on the list of international terrorists, namely Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, Abdul-Khaleq Badr al-Din al-Houthi and Abdullah Yahya al-Hakim,” he added, indicating that the State Department would notify Congress of its intention to on January 19 designate the Yemeni rebel group a terrorist organization.

President Donald Trump will leave office on January 20.

Mansour Rageh, a Cairo-based Yemeni analyst and chief economist at the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, told The Media Line that if the classification was approved, its impact would be entirely dependent on subsequent US actions on the ground.

“If the implementation is strict and includes any person or party that deals with the Houthis, or all of the group’s leaders or the institutions that the group controls in Sanaa, considering them as working under the group, then the pressure on them will be huge,” Rageh said.

If the classification only concerns the larger group, it will not make a big difference, as the Houthis do not have official bank accounts, he explained. “Even the three leaders who have been named to be sanctioned as well don’t conduct any banking transactions or have any property under their names.”

Therefore, Rageh suggests, to the extent that the US is strict in implementing the classification, if approved, it will lead to weakening the Houthis.

The Houthis on Monday said they reserved “the right to respond” to the US move.

“These policies represent a crisis in thinking and are to be condemned, and we have the right to respond,” Houthi political commander Mohammed Ali al-Houthi said in a tweet. He added that the Yemeni people “don’t care about any designation from Trump’s administration, as it is a partner in killing Yemenis and starving them.”

Prof. Widad al-Jarwan, who specializes in political sociology at King Saud University in Riyadh, told The Media Line the destruction of Yemeni society was caused by the incursion of the Houthi militia, which served to strengthen the rebels’ influence, “[while] planning in advance attacks on the Saudi borders and efforts to confuse our country [Saudi Arabia].”

Iran is using the Houthi militias as its proxies in Yemen, which control parts of the country, by invoking professions of faith and false slogans, and sometimes in the name of the Yemeni state, Jarwan explained.

“The truth is that this organization would never have become a strong and independent entity supported by Iran without an international green light and silence motivated by political and economic ambitions in the region, stirring up strife and strengthening gangs and parties and supporting them,” she elaborated.

The US move came late, given the havoc wreaked by the organization in Yemen, Jarwan said. “Its destructive assets were about to expand at the behest of other countries if Saudi Arabia hadn’t intervened and blocked all conspiracies.”

She urged that the American classification be implemented immediately, by cutting off all supplies to the Houthi militias, from abroad and domestically, “in addition to weakening its control over thought, society and education, by extending support to the legitimate [Yemeni] government to extend its influence and stability in the country.”

The international community could produce a genuine rebirth of Yemen, if it would cease remaining silent about the actions of this “militia” and worked to treat it as a terrorist organization “with action and firmness, not just promulgating a law or issuing an announcement,” Jarwan said.

Providing material support or assistance to any organization on the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, including volunteering to join a designated group, is a crime under US law.

The United States also has other mechanisms by which affiliation or interaction with a designated terrorist entity is criminalized. An executive order applies financial sanctions to foreign persons and entities classified as “Specially Designated Global Terrorists,” and the terrorist exclusion list allows US immigration authorities to bar individuals who provide material support to designated organizations from entering the country.

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