U.S. Designates the Houthis a Terror Group

The State Department on Friday designated the Houthis as a terrorist organization, following through on a mid-January warning to crack down on the Yemen-based militant group.

The action officially labels the Houthis as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group, a step that gives the United States new powers to crack down on the Iran-backed Houthis’ access to the global financial system.

It restores a designation given to the group late in the Trump administration, which Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken reversed soon after taking office in 2021, partly to facilitate peace talks for Yemen’s civil war.

Last month, Mr. Blinken announced the State Department’s intent to return the Houthis to its terrorism list, but delayed the action for 30 days. The pause was intended in part to give humanitarian aid groups working in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen time to ensure that their work does not run afoul of new sanctions from the United States that will punish anyone who provides support to the militant group. Some aid groups have warned that their work will inevitably be constrained in a country with dire humanitarian needs.

Mr. Blinken said in January that the implementation delay was also meant to give the Houthis — who are the de facto government in northern Yemen and are backed by Iran — a chance to cease their attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, which have disrupted global trade causing delays and higher prices. Those attacks have recently prompted dozens of U.S. airstrikes in response. But neither American military action nor the threat of a terrorist designation have deterred the Houthis.

A State Department spokesman noted that just this morning, a missile launched from Yemen struck an India-bound, Panamanian-flagged ship carrying crude oil. The official said the ship is continuing south under its own power.

Some Republicans hawks have criticized President Biden for not placing the Houthis in a different official category, known as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, which they say would allow for harsher U.S. penalties and greater ability to prosecute the group’s financial supporters. The Trump administration designated the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization as well a Specially Designated Global Terrorist; Mr. Blinken reversed both designations.

The newly restored designation of Specially Designated Global Terrorist group can be removed again if the Houthis stop their aggressive behavior, Mr. Blinken said last month.