US to designate Houthis a ‘terrorist’ group

The United States is set to designate Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a terrorist group, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

This late-term move, aid groups feared, will worsen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

With just ten days to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, the announcement on Sunday could complicate the new US administration’s efforts to restart diplomacy with Iran, which has ties to the Houthis and to reassess the US relationship with Saudi Arabia, which has led a brutal offensive in Yemen.

“The designations are intended to hold Ansar Allah accountable for its terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks threatening civilian populations, infrastructure and commercial shipping,” Pompeo said in a statement, using the official name of the Houthi movement.

It has led a campaign that has “killed many people, continues to destabilise the region and denies Yemenis a peaceful solution to the conflict in their country”, he added.

Pompeo pointed to a December 30 attack on an airport in Yemen’s second city Aden, which killed 26 people and was blamed by the Saudi-backed government on the Houthis.

The rebel group controls much of Yemen and is already under US sanctions.

But a designation as a terrorist group is expected to scare away outside actors from carrying out many transactions with Houthi authorities, including bank transfers and buying food and fuel.

The Trump administration has been piling on sanctions related to Iran in recent weeks, prompting some Biden allies and outside analysts to conclude that Trump aides are seeking to make it harder for the incoming administration to re-engage with Iran and rejoin an international nuclear agreement.

Both the Houthis and Iran condemned Pompeo’s announcement on Monday.

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