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US Rules on Houthi Actions — And Iran is to Blame

August 15, 2019
Faramarz Davar
4 min read
The Supreme Leader met with the Houthi spokesman Mohammad Abdolsalam
The Supreme Leader met with the Houthi spokesman Mohammad Abdolsalam

For the first time, a United States court has ruled that the Islamic Republic can be held accountable for the activities of the Houthis, the insurgent religious-political group in Yemen that is backed by Iran both financially and on ideological grounds. 

A federal court in New York ruled that US citizens would be entitled to compensation for losses they had suffered as a result of operations carried out by the Houthis, also known as the Ansarallah militia. This includes the families of two US citizens who were kidnapped by the Houthis in 2015, both of which are suing the Islamic Republic. The compensation will likely come from Iranian assets the US government has seized as part of its sanctions program against Iran.


An Unprecedented Meeting

The ruling coincided with a meeting in Tehran between Yemen’s Houthi spokesman, Mohammad Abdolsalam, and Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. During the meeting, Ayatollah Khamenei asked Abdolsalam to send his regards to the Houthi leader, Abdul-Malik Badreddin al-Houthi, who he referred to as a “dear Mujahed brother.”

Ayatollah Khamenei’s official website stated that Abdolsalam praised the leader in the meeting and added: “We consider your leadership as the continuation of the Prophet Muhammad and Imam Ali’s leadership.”

According to Iranian state media, despite the fact that a dagger is normally considered to be a security threat during any meeting with the ayatollah, the Supreme Leader’s approval of the meeting with the Houthi spokesman indicates the very close relationship and the trust between the Houthis and Iran.  

Ayatollah Khamenei’s official website describes this close relationship with the Houthis and the recent meeting: “This diplomatic delegation was not at the level of other delegations that the Supreme Leader usually meets. We can even say it was the first time that the Supreme Leader has attended such a meeting with a movement’s spokesman, which is because the movement’s leaders cannot leave Yemen. But the Supreme Leader welcomed him as if he was a high-level diplomatic delegation.”

The Supreme Leader’s office reported that, upon meeting with the Houthi spokesman Mohammad Abdolsalam, Khamenei opened the letter he had been given from the Houthi leader and read it at the meeting — a turn of events in sharp contrast to his meeting with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Although a very different situation, Abe also arrived to his meeting with the Supreme Leader with a written message — from President Donald Trump — which the Supreme Leader ignored.

Following the meeting, the official website of the Supreme Leader published an unprecedented response: “Yemeni fighters consider any Seyyed — who is a decedent of the Shia Imams — to be an Imam and they obey him. The public manifestation of this idea from the Ansarallah Movement in Yemen is an intelligent move and will prove itself to be significant in the region in the near future.”


Iran’s Bankrolling of Houthis and the Crime Against Americans

The families of two Americans kidnapped by Houthis are now suing Iran for compensation. 

The two men were kidnapped from the airport in Yemen’s capital Sana’a in 2015 and allegedly tortured. One of them died under torture after 16 days. The other remained a hostage for six months until he was released.

The families are seeking compensation from the Islamic Republic because of the trauma and mental pressure they suffered — and they regard the Islamic Republic as being directly responsible for the Houthis’ actions because it has supported the Houthis financially.

The court ruled in favor of the families and entitled them to compensation. The exact amount of compensation due will be ruled on at a later date.


The Houthis and Iran

The Houthi militia follows the Zaidi Shia faith. It started as a local group less than 20 years ago, but is now in control of major parts of Yemen, including Sana’a.

Hussein Badreddin Houthi founded the group and was its first leader. The brother of the current leader, who sent the letter to Khamenei,  traveled to the hub of Iran’s mullahs and seminaries in Qom in the 1980s. 

In addition, the leaders of the Shabab-al-Momenin group, who paved the road for Houthis in Yemen, have close ties to the Iranian government.

Shortly after the Houthis gained control over Sana’a, its leaders traveled to Tehran to meet with Iranian officials and at the same time, Iran established a direct flight between Tehran and Sana’a. UN and other international officials have stated that Iran supports Houthis through financial support and by supplying them with weapons. US authorities have repeatedly stated that rockets used by Houthis have been manufactured by the Islamic Republic, proving that Iran is directly supporting the Houthis in their fight against Saudi-backed forces that support the ousted president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Iran denies sending any armament to Houthis — and yet clearly supports them in public.

The Houthis have confronted Iran’s enemies in the region in recent years, fighting against Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, ISIS, and Al-Qaeda in Yemen.

Now for the first time, a US federal court has held Iran accountable for Houthis’ actions, including kidnapping, murder, and torture, and has ruled that victims are entitled to compensation from blocked Iranian assets.

Prior to this, US courts have held Iran accountable for actions taken by Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Palestine’s Hamas and the Islamic Movement, and have accordingly blocked around $100 billion of Iranian assets in the United States. In these cases, the plaintiffs were able to acquire about $2 billion of blocked assets in compensation.


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