US, Gulf allies sanction Yemenis in joint anti-terror effort

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — The United States and its Gulf Arab allies announced on Wednesday a coordinated effort to sanction a number of Yemenis and an entity suspected of financing the Islamic State group and al-Qaida.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin described the sanctions list as “the largest ever multilateral designation in the Middle East.”

The designations were backed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain, who all jointly agreed to the list — despite a monthslong diplomatic standoff between three of those Gulf states and Qatar.

“This bold and innovative multilateral approach is needed because terrorism poses a threat to all of our nations,” Mnuchin said as he announced the designations during a speech at an investment conference in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Mnuchin is also scheduled to visit the UAE, Qatar and Jerusalem during his Mideast trip.

Lists released by Qatar and Saudi Arabia on Thursday named 11 individuals who would be sanctioned under the agreement and two Yemeni entities: a supermarket chain and a charity organization.

The U.S. Treasury Department named eight Yemenis and only the supermarket chain, which it said was owned by an al-Qaida weapons dealer and financier. It was not immediately clear why the other lists included additional names and a charity.

None of the Yemenis are particularly well-known figures in the war-torn country. Extremist groups like al-Qaida and the IS group have taken advantage of years of conflict and instability in Yemen to expand their presence on the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.

The sanctions announcement reflected rare coordination among the oil-rich Gulf states nearly four months after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed ties with Qatar over its foreign policies. At the heart of the dispute is Qatar’s tolerance and support of opposition Islamist groups in the region, as well as its bilateral ties with Iran.

Washington and others have unsuccessfully tried to encourage an end to the dispute, concerned that the standoff will hinder efforts to fight the Islamic State group. The Gulf states are all members of the U.S-led coalition that is fighting IS in Iraq and Syria. Qatar and Bahrain also host major U.S. military bases.

Mnuchin’s remarks at the investment conference come a day after Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, declared that Saudi Arabia would revert to “moderate Islam” as it embarks on social and economic reforms.

Mnuchin compared Saudi Arabia’s economic overhaul with President Donald Trump’s plans for tax reform, saying that America is “in the middle of our own bold new program for reform.”

The U.S.-Saudi relationship has strengthened since Trump took office.