The Biden administration is expected to re-designate Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a specially designated global terrorist group (SDGT), a U.S. official confirmed to CBS News Tuesday. This comes amid the militia’s continuing attacks targeting commercial vessels in the Red Sea.

The move would reverse the original decision made by the State Department in February of 2021 to remove the SDGT designation and de-list the Iran-backed Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). Both designations were applied in the final days of the Trump administration to the Iran-backed group, which controls large portions of Yemen and has been engaged in a years-long civil war with the internationally-recognized, Saudi-backed Yemeni government.

A State Department official told CBS News at the time that the move was “due entirely to the humanitarian consequences of this last-minute designation from the prior administration, which the United Nations and humanitarian organizations have since made clear would accelerate the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”

The SDGT designation is distinct from an FTO in that it carries different implications for the potential delivery of humanitarian aid. A foreign terrorist organization label can trigger sanctions for those who provide “material support” to a designated group.

The Associated Press first reported the administration’s expected move.

Asked whether the U.S. would re-designate the Houthis as an FTO on Tuesday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the administration was “still in the process of reviewing” the matter.

Since the Palestinian militant group Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing at least 1,200 people and sparking the Israel-Hamas war, Houthi rebels have launched dozens of drone and missile attacks on merchant ships in the Red Sea in what they have said is an effort to support Palestinians.

When asked by reporters on Jan. 12 whether the Houthis were a terrorist group, President Biden responded, “I think they are.”

Mr. Biden’s comments came on the same day that U.S. and U.K. forces, with support from Bahrain, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands, launched their first round of airstrikes on dozens of Houthi sites in Yemen. American officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have warned for weeks of unspecified “consequences” for the rebels, while stressing the need to prevent the Gaza conflict from broadening across the Middle East.

On Monday, the Houthis continued their attacks by firing a ballistic missile at a U.S.-owned and operated container ship. There were no serious injuries or damage.

American officials said on Tuesday that the U.S. conducted pre-emptive strikes to destroy anti-ship ballistic missiles that were prepared to launch from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen. The militia later struck a merchant vessel, causing damage but no injuries.

“We fully anticipated, when we launched that salvo on Friday night, that the Houthis would probably conduct some retaliatory strikes,” Kirby told reporters on Tuesday, referring to the Jan. 12 operation. “We believe that we did have a good effect with those strikes in terms of disrupting and degrading their capability to conduct military offensive operations.”

The attacks have forced some ocean carriers to avoid the Red Sea entirely, leading to worldwide shipping disruptions.

The White House has repeatedly accused Iran of being involved in the Houthis’ Red Sea attacks, allegations Tehran has denied.

However, the Pentagon on Tuesday reported that, over the weekend, it seized a boatload of “advanced conventional weapons” sent from Iran to the Houthis.

U.S. Central Command’s Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla called it evidence that “Iran continues shipment of advanced lethal aid to the Houthis.”

Source » cbsnews