The Trump administration will designate Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization in a move that diplomats, members of Congress and international aid groups fear could further inflame the situation on the ground, upend UN peace talks, and exacerbate the country’s humanitarian crisis.
In a statement released just before midnight Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the State Department would notify Congress of its intent to designate the group as a foreign terrorist organization as well as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity. Pompeo said he also intends to designate three of the group’s leaders – Abdul Malik al-Houthi, Abd al-Khaliq Badr al-Din al-Houthi and Abdullah Yahya al Hakim – as specially designated global terrorists.
“These designations will provide additional tools to confront terrorist activity and terrorism by Ansarallah, a deadly Iran-backed militia group in the Gulf region,” Pompeo said. “The designations are intended to hold Ansarallah (the Houthi rebels) accountable for its terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks threatening civilian populations, infrastructure, and commercial shipping.”
Yemen has been embroiled in a years-long civil war that has pitted a coalition backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, a Shia political and military organization from the north of Yemen. The conflict has cost thousands of civilian lives and plunged the country into a humanitarian crisis.
The group’s leadership condemned the designations, which were praised by Yemen’s Saudi-backed government. The news was also welcomed by the Saudi and Emirati governments – some sources believe that the designation was a parting gift to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.
The foreign terrorist designation will go into effect on January 19, just a day before the administration leaves office.
‘A big mistake’
“It’s a big mistake,” said former US Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein. “It mostly is a problem for the US government more than for the Houthis.
“The Houthis will be more or less unaffected by this. Obviously, Iran doesn’t care whether we designate the Houthis as a terrorist organization or not,” he told CNN Monday. “But it does make it much more complicated for the US government to play a positive role in helping to resolve the conflict.”