A Houthi fighter holds up a pistol in the cargo area of the Galaxy Leader cargo ship in the Red Sea in this photo released November 20, 2023.

US Insists Red Sea Ship Hijacked By Somalis, Not Houthis

Tuesday, 11/28/2023

Hours after Yemen’s government blamed an attack on a ship in the Red Sea on the Iran-backed Houthis, the US announced that the culprits were Somali pirates.

On Sunday, there was an attempted hijacking of a vessel in the Gulf Of Aden, which in the wake of threats by the Houthis to target Israeli-linked vessels in the region, had the hallmarks of the Iranian proxy group.

Missiles had also been fired towards a US vessel, USS Mason, from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen after it came to the aid of the attacked ship, M/V Central Park. However, the Pentagon was still reluctant to attribute the attack to the Houthis. It remained unclear that if the pirates were Somalis, why were missiles fired from Houthi territories.

”We're continuing to assess, but initial indications are that these five individuals are Somali," said Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Patrick Ryder. "It's not clear to us who they were targeting exactly," Ryder said.

On Sunday, the Southern Transitional Council in Yemen had quickly pointed the finger at the group it has been in bitter civil war with for nearing a decade. 

“The Houthi seizure of a vessel in the territorial waters of the Gulf of Aden represents an escalation of the pattern of ongoing violations and acts of aggression against the people and the government in Southern Yemen and serves as further evidence that this terrorist group routinely exploits humanitarian issues to conceal its grave crimes against humanity,” a statement said.

Even more strongly, it connected the attack to Iran. “It is also further evidence that the Houthi are acting as a tool of the Islamic Republic of Iran - obedient to its directives and causing harm to its neighboring countries.”

The US removed the Houthis from the list of foreign terrorist organizations in 2021 in a bid to appease Iran and allow humanitarian aid into war-torn Yemen, but the recent wave of attacks in the Red Sea by the group, and missiles launched towards Israel, at war with fellow proxy, Hamas, has raised calls for it to be re-listed.

Senator Bill Hegarty is among those calling for urgent action, saying Biden “must re-designate Iran-backed Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization immediately. Removing them from the FTO list to appease Iran was unconscionable. Houthis are hijacking vessels and firing missiles at US personnel. Why is Biden delaying such an obvious action?”

Others even questioned the fact the attack was blamed on Somalis, who have been relatively inactive in the region for several years.

Jason Brodsky, from United Against a Nuclear Iran (UANI), an advocacy group opposed to the Islamic Republic and critical of the Biden administration's Iran policy, called it an “excuse for more inaction from Biden.

David Friedman, former US ambassador to Israel, also said inaction was making US forces “sitting ducks”, victim to attacks to Iran’s proxies. “Show some strength,” he wrote on X, unperturbed by the news of the Somali allegations, many feeling the trademarks of the Houthis’ recent attacks were simply too close to question.

Since the Hamas invasion of Israel on October 7, in which 1,200 mostly civilians were killed and another 240 or more hostages taken to Gaza, Iranian proxy activity across the region has heightened. Collaboration is high as the united mission to destroy Iran’s archenemies Israel and the US, gains traction.

On Israel’s northern border, Hezbollah has been increasing its attacks, while proxies in Syria and Iraq have also fired towards its border. Attacks on US facilities in Iraq and Yemen have now well exceeded 60 as retaliation for the country’s support for Israel’s relentless retaliation following the invasion, which has since left over 15,000 Gazans dead.

The Houthis have since launched long range missiles towards southern Israel in addition to stepping up its activities in the Red Sea, which it had announced earlier this month, claiming Israeli-backed ships were a “legitimate target” amidst the war in Gaza.

The Galaxy Leader and its 25 international crew were hijacked by helicopter-borne troops just days after the warning was issued by the proxy’s Telegram channel. The Israeli-owned ship was flying the flag of the Bahamas and was chartered by a Japanese group.

Senator Marsha Blackburn also joined the calls for designation, unperturbed by the Somali attribution. “The Houthis just launched ballistic missiles at a US Naval ship rescuing an Israeli-owned vessel,” she wrote, adding, “the US should never bend to terrorists”.

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