39.1 F
Washington D.C.
Monday, April 22, 2024

Houthis Again Are Close to the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organizations List

Houthis’ ongoing attacks targeting commercial shipping on the Red Sea led U.S. forces to launch a campaign of strikes targeting the group. President Biden said last Friday that the U.S. would respond if Houthis continued their outrageous behavior. He also replied to a question about whether Houthis were a terrorist organization, “I think they are.” Houthis are at the risk of being redesignated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) after its removal in 2021.

Houthis is another group in the Middle East backed by Iran. One of the consequences of Hamas’s terrorist attacks surfaced how Iran-backed groups are well-organized and capable of doing campaign attacks in several countries. They even seem to be more threatening than ISIS and Al Qaeda groups in the Middle East that have been the perpetrators of locally conducted low-profile attacks in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Iran-backed militia groups have targeted U.S. military bases in the Middle East more than ISIS and Al Qaeda since 2018. In addition to Hamas, which received support from Iran in planning the October 7th attacks, Iran-backed groups formed the Islamic Resistance in Iraq group that targeted American bases and military after the Hamas attacks. The U.S. forces took action and hit back at Iran-backed militia in Iraq and Syria last week. Hezbollah is another organization that has climbed on Iran’s bandwagon and conducted hundreds of attacks from Lebanon targeting Israel since the October 7th attacks. Finally, Houthis joined these groups and launched missiles targeting Israel’s Eliat city port on the Red Sea and downing an American MQ—drone. Taking advantage of its position on the Red Sea, Houthis have continued to target commercial shipping.

Moreover, Houthis have been the perpetrators of hundreds of attacks in the region. For example, according to the Global Terrorism and Trends Analysis Center (GTTAC) Records of Incidents Database (GRID), the Houthis conducted 231 terrorist attacks in 2018, and it rose to 319 in 2019 and 756 in 2020. Their attacks were 303 in 2021 and 300 in 2022, as seen in Figure 1 below. It is the top group with the most drone attacks on the list of terror groups from January 2018 to September 2023.    

Figure 1: Houthis Terror Attacks between 2018 and 2022

The civil war in Yemen has morphed into proxy wars for states and their surrogate organizations to pursue their interests. Much like the ongoing civil war in Syria that involves many parties, the Yemeni conflict involves several states (Iran and Saudi Arabia) and non-state actors – including surrogate organizations for the states, terrorist organizations, and rebel groups. Several of them are Houthis, Al Qaeda In the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), ISIS’s affiliate in Yemen, the Southern Transitional Council backed by UAE, and the southern separatist groups. This diverse mix of participants makes it difficult to determine which states and groups are involved and what they hope to achieve by inserting themselves into the Yemeni civil war.

When the anti-government uprisings that came to be known as the Arab Spring erupted in 2011, Yemen’s longtime authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, handed over power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. However, Hadi inherited a regime beset with problems ranging from attacks by jihadists and the continuing loyalty of security personnel to Saleh to corruption, unemployment, food insecurity, and a separatist movement in the south. Yemen remained relatively peaceful until 2014 and the outbreak of civil war between the Houthis, who are Shiites, and the Sunni-majority government. The Houthis, who had a history of fighting with and engaging in rebellions against the government, took control of Yemen’s constitutional capital, Sana’a, in 2014.

During the early years of the civil war, the Houthis also had support from some of Yemen’s Sunnis. That support most likely allowed the Houthi rebels to gain control of the presidential palace in January 2015. Neighboring Saudi Arabia responded to the expansion of the Houthis’ control of the government by forming a coalition force that launched a campaign of economic isolation and military attacks in Yemen. Various attempts by the United Nations to broker peace talks stalled and then failed in 2016. 

Perhaps emboldened, the Houthis pressed on, leaving in their wake a path of death and destruction and the world’s worst humanitarian crisis to date. According to the United Nations, more than 233,000 people lost their lives – including 131,000 who died of indirect causes such as food insecurity and lack of health services. Almost 25 million Yemenis remain in need of assistance, and 5 million are at risk of famine. An estimated 4 million people have been displaced. Human rights violations and violations of international law have been rampant, with blame going not only to the Houthis but also to all participants in the conflict.

Houthis and FTO List

The Houthis were added to the list of FTOs in a last-minute designation by the Trump administration on January 19, 2021. President Biden revoked the designation based on humanitarian concerns on February 12, 2021; however, the Houthis’ attacks targeting commercial shipping in the Red Sea have renewed the debate about listing the group as an FTO.

The Department of State is the U.S. agency tasked with designating foreign groups as terrorist organizations if those groups meet the legal criteria in section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended:

(1) It must be a foreign organization; (2) The organization must engage in terrorist activity . . . or terrorism, . . . or retain the capability and intent to engage in terrorist activity or terrorism; [and] (3) The organization’s terrorist activity or terrorism must threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security (national defense, foreign relations, or the economic interests) of the United States.

The Annex of Statistical Information that the Department of State released on April 15, 2023, uses three inclusion criteria to determine whether an incident should be deemed a terrorist incident:

(1) The violent act aims to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal; (2) The violent act includes evidence of an intention to coerce, intimidate, or convey some other message to an audience (or audiences) larger than the immediate victims; [and] (3) The violent act occurred outside the precepts of international humanitarian law insofar as it targeted non-combatants.

Based on the Department of State’s legal criteria, the Houthis meet the first and second criteria because the Houthis are a foreign organization that engages in terrorist activity. Concerning the third criterion, strong evidence shows that Houthis directly targeted U.S. nationals and U.S. national security. For example, Houthi missile attacks in January 2022 targeted a military base in Abu Dhabi with 2,000 American troops stationed at the facility. Its ballistic missiles struck three commercial ships, and a U.S. warship shot down three drones in self-defense during the assault in December 2023. Its another attack hit a US-owned container ship with a ballistic missile in Gulf of Aden on January 15, 2024. 

Based on the Department of State’s inclusion criteria, the Houthis meet the first criterion because they are fighting against the internationally recognized Hadi government in Yemen to achieve the following political, economic, religious, and social goals: reverse economic underdevelopment, end political marginalization, and achieve greater autonomy in Houthi-majority regions. The Houthis also meet the second criterion because their violent acts are intended to send a message to the entire country of Yemen and neighboring countries. As one example of evidence of this intent, the Houthis attacked Saudi Arabia numerous times from 2018 to 2023, mostly with drones and missile launches from Yemen. Within Yemen, the GRID records that the Houthis were the perpetrators of 1909 attacks from 2018 to 2022. Finally, the Houthis meet the third criterion. Again, according to the Annex of Statistical Information, it is clear that the Houthis’ violent acts targeted non-combatants because 29 percent of the victims were civilians.

To conclude, given the capacity of the Houthis to commit violent acts and the involvement of regional powers in the conflict in Yemen, it would not be wrong to conclude that the Yemeni conflict and the death of innocent Yemeni civilians will continue. Houthis will be a strong pawn in the game played by Tehran and serve the interests of its regime in the region. The United States removed Houthis from the list of FTOs due to humanitarian concerns in 2021, but its growing threat in the region has pushed Houthis to knock on the door of the terrorist list.

author avatar
Mahmut Cengiz
Dr. Mahmut Cengiz is an Associate Professor and Research Faculty with Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC) and the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University (GMU). Dr. Cengiz has international field experience where he has delivered capacity building and training assistance to international partners in the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. He has also been involved in research projects for the Brookings Institute, the European Union, and various U.S. agencies. Dr. Cengiz regularly publishes books, articles and Op-eds. He is the author of six books, many articles, and book chapters regarding terrorism, organized crime, smuggling, terrorist financing, and trafficking issues. His 2019 book, “The Illicit Economy in Turkey: How Criminals, Terrorists, and the Syrian Conflict Fuel Underground Economies,” analyzes the role of criminals, money launderers, and corrupt politicians and discusses the involvement of ISIS and al-Qaida-affiliated groups in the illicit economy. Since 2018, Dr. Cengiz has been working on the launch and development of the Global Terrorist Trends and Analysis Center (GTTAC) and currently serves as Academic Director and Co-Principal Investigator for the GMU component. He teaches Terrorism, American Security Policy, and Narco-Terrorism courses at George Mason University.
Mahmut Cengiz
Mahmut Cengiz
Dr. Mahmut Cengiz is an Associate Professor and Research Faculty with Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC) and the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University (GMU). Dr. Cengiz has international field experience where he has delivered capacity building and training assistance to international partners in the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. He has also been involved in research projects for the Brookings Institute, the European Union, and various U.S. agencies. Dr. Cengiz regularly publishes books, articles and Op-eds. He is the author of six books, many articles, and book chapters regarding terrorism, organized crime, smuggling, terrorist financing, and trafficking issues. His 2019 book, “The Illicit Economy in Turkey: How Criminals, Terrorists, and the Syrian Conflict Fuel Underground Economies,” analyzes the role of criminals, money launderers, and corrupt politicians and discusses the involvement of ISIS and al-Qaida-affiliated groups in the illicit economy. Since 2018, Dr. Cengiz has been working on the launch and development of the Global Terrorist Trends and Analysis Center (GTTAC) and currently serves as Academic Director and Co-Principal Investigator for the GMU component. He teaches Terrorism, American Security Policy, and Narco-Terrorism courses at George Mason University.

Related Articles

- Advertisement -

Latest Articles