The Biden administration is expected to redesignate Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis as a terrorist group – after its removal from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list in 2021 – after repeated recent attacks in the Red Sea, Fox News has learned.
Officials told Fox News that it wasn’t clear if the Houthis will be placed in the Specially Designated Global Terrorist list, but that there are a number of sanction options that can be used in lieu of a formal FTO finding.
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. Hours earlier, Houthi fighters launched anti-ship ballistic missiles from Yemen into the Red Sea.
“M/V Zografia, a Maltese flagged bulk carrier reported they were struck but seaworthy and were continuing their Red Sea transit. No injuries were reported,” U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said.
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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.
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.
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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.
On Tuesday, U.S. forces struck and destroyed four Houthi anti-ship ballistic missiles that were prepared to launch from Yemen, CENTCOM said.
In addition to the Houthis, groups linked to Iran have launched attacks in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. The Biden administration has raised concerns that the war between Israel and Hamas could escalate into a regional conflict.
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“We have to guard against and be vigilant against the possibility that, in fact, rather than heading towards de-escalation, we are on a path of escalation that we have to manage,” White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said during an appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.