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The United States Designates the Houthis (Ansarallah in Yemen) as a Terrorist Group

On January 10, 2021, then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated Ansarallah, an armed militia in Yemen backed by Iran also known as the “Houthis,” as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs). Secretary Pompeo also designated three Ansarallah leaders—Abdul Malik al-Houthi, Abd al-Khaliq Badr al-Din al-Houthi and Abdullah Yahya al Hakim—as SDGTs. The new designations and sanctions went into effect on January 19, 2021.

The Houthis currently control most of Northern Yemen and its capital Sana’a. The United States and Saudi Arabia recognize the government of Yemen based in Aden. The country has remained at war for several years, with regional powers supporting differing groups.

Impact of the Sanctions
The designation is made under Executive Order 13224, as amended by Executive Order 13886, and makes it unlawful for a person in the United States or subject to U.S. jurisdiction to engage in transactions or services with Ansarallah or its leaders, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, Abd al-Khaliq Badr al-Din al-Houthi and Abdullah Yahya al Hakim. Their property and interests in property must be blocked where U.S. jurisdiction applies, including entities in which they have an ownership interest of 50 percent or more. The designation also bans members of the group from entering into the United States, and may result in the removal of foreign members of the group from the United States.

U.S. law asserts jurisdiction for sanctions purposes (a) over U.S. persons anywhere they are located; (b) activity by any person taking place in the United States; (c) property in the United States; and (d) U.S. dollar transactions initiated anywhere in the world that clear through the U.S. financial system. In addition, facilitation by a U.S. person for from the United States of activity by non-U.S. persons that would be prohibited for a U.S. person would violate applicable sanctions laws. Finally, attempt and conspiracy to engage in any of the activities described above, evasion or avoidance of the law, and causing a violation by a U.S. person are prohibited.

Further, the U.S. Secretary of State may apply sanctions to non-U.S. persons acting outside of U.S. jurisdiction who are determined to have “materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial material or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of” Ansarallah or its designated leaders, as well as to a specific act of terrorism. The Secretary of State also may apply sanctions to persons determined to have certain ownership or control links to parties designated as SDGTs, to be a leader or official of such parties, or to have participated in training related to terrorism provided by the same.

U.S. Department of Treasury Licenses for Humanitarian Aid
The U.S. government has sought to mitigate the impact of these sanctions on humanitarian aid with several General Licenses. (See here.) NGOs and other humanitarian groups also can apply for licenses from the Department of the Treasury, including to provide certain food and medical aid.

Policy Under Incoming Biden Administration
It will be important to monitor whether the Biden administration makes changes to this sanctions policy decision, which was somewhat controversial within U.S. foreign policy circles. However, until sanctions designations are formally changed, or new General Licenses are issued, the prohibitions described above will remain in place.