Yemen’s Ansarullah on Monday condemned the United States’ move to brand the movement as a terrorist organization and said it reserved the right to respond.
“These policies represent a crisis in thinking and are to be condemned, and we have the right to respond,” Ansarullah’s political commander Mohamed Ali al-Houthi said in a tweet, adding that the US is “the source of terrorism”.
“The Yemeni people don’t care about any designation from (US President Donald) Trump’s administration as it is a partner in killing Yemenis and starving them,” he said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington plans to designate Ansarullah as a foreign terrorist organization, a last-minute move in defiance of aid groups who fear it will worsen a humanitarian crisis.
Unless Congress blocks the decision, Ansarullah will be blacklisted on January 19 – one day before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, whose aides had hoped to mount a fresh push to end Yemen’s devastating war.
Pompeo’s action could complicate Biden’s efforts to reassess the US alliance with Saudi Arabia, which has led a bloody offensive in its impoverished southern neighbor since 2015.
“The designations are intended to hold Ansarullah accountable for its terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks threatening civilian populations, infrastructure and commercial shipping,” Pompeo said in a statement late Sunday, AFP reported.
The movement “continues to destabilize the region and denies Yemenis a peaceful solution to the conflict in their country,” he added.
Pompeo also designated as terrorists three leaders of the movement, including their chief Abdul Malik al-Houthi.
Fears of aid groups
Ansarullah controls much of Yemen, including the capital Sana’a, and is already under US sanctions.
But a designation as a terrorist group is expected to scare away outside actors from many transactions with Houthi authorities, including bank transfers and buying food and fuel, for fear of US prosecution.
Aid groups have warned Pompeo against the blacklisting of Ansarullah, saying that they have no option but to deal with the government in Sana’a.
“We must be able to negotiate access for our aid and protection of civilians with all sides to all conflicts. Our humanitarian work must not be criminalized,” Jan Egeland, the secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said in November.
Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed and millions displaced in Yemen’s war, with most of the nation dependent on some form of aid to survive.
Pompeo issued the statement shortly before midnight on a Sunday. Under US law, Congress has seven days in which it can object to a designation of a foreign terrorist group.
But Congress will likely be focused on other issues, as the House of Representatives looks at impeaching President Donald Trump for a second time after he encouraged a mob that on January 6 stormed the Capitol to disrupt a ceremonial session that certified Biden’s election victory.
Lawmakers from Biden’s Democratic Party had already told Pompeo that the step would both jeopardize aid and peace efforts.
In an open letter to Pompeo last month, retired US diplomats, including six former ambassadors to Yemen, also doubted that Ansarullah met the legal definition of a terrorist group.
“In fact, designating the Houthi movement will be perceived as politically motivated,” they wrote.