Houthi rebels have stormed the American embassy in Yemen and taken hostages, the Washington Free Beacon reported Thursday.
State Department officials told the Free Beacon that “the majority of the detained have been released, but the Houthis continue to detain additional Yemeni employees of the embassy.”
Houthi fighters reportedly took the compound on Wednesday, demanding “large quantities of equipment and materials,” per the Middle East Media Research Institute. Yemen has been embroiled in a brutal civil war between the Houthi rebels — who are backed, financed, and armed by the Iranian government —and the standing Yemeni government, which has the support of Saudi Arabia. The conflict is oftentimes described as a “proxy war” being fought by the two Yemeni sides on the ground, but largely on behalf of the two larger powers.
Within a month of taking office, President Joe Biden removed the foreign-terrorist organization designation placed on the the Houthis by the Trump administration. The designation had cut the Houthis “off from financial support and other material resources that are routed through U.S. banks or other American institutions.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the decision “a recognition of the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen.”
The Trump administration’s designation had included a carve-out authorizing the Treasury Department “to provide licenses pursuant to its authorities and corresponding guidance that relate to the official activities of the United States government in Yemen, including assistance programming that continues to be the largest of any donor and the official activities of certain international organizations such as the United Nations.” At the same time as the removal of the foreign terrorist label, Biden also announced the cessation of “all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales.” Previously, the U.S. had been backed the Yemeni government.
The Houthis are known for their brutal tactics, which include the firing of rockets into civilian population centers as well as the torture and execution of journalists, religious minorities, political opponents, and human rights activists. They also conscript child soldiers as young as eleven years old, according to some reports.
Officials at the State Department have pledged to continue their “diplomatic efforts to secure the release of our staff and the vacating of our compound, including through our international partners.”