Statements & Remarks

Remarks from Deputy Assistant Secretary Jesse Baker at Terrorist Financing Targeting Center Meeting

WASHINGTON – On Tuesday, February 20, the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC) hosted a capacity building workshop in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on terrorist financing concerns linked to maritime security. The workshop aimed to continue TFTC’s efforts on sharing risks and building partners’ collective understanding of emerging maritime threats, sharing experiences of how different governments have approached this issue, determining how they relate to TFTC’s broader counterterrorism mission, and identifying opportunities for future collaboration to secure the Gulf’s waterways.

In recent weeks as some of the region’s most critical waterways have been shaken by dangerous attacks by the Houthis, the TFTC aims to redouble its commitment to the Center as an entity to identify, track and share information regarding terrorist financial networks and related activities of mutual concerns, including relating threats emanating from countries and terrorist organizations. There is critical need to ensure that terrorists and other malicious actors cannot continue to profit from and exploit the maritime domain; addressing this threat requires enlisting a broader segment of the private sector to combat this activity.

The Riyadh workshop was a critical opportunity for the TFTC to share actions taken by member states within their jurisdictions focused on the illicit finance threat from terrorist networks and related activities of mutual concern within the Gulf. Jesse Baker, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Asia and the Middle East in the Office of Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes (TFFC), provided closing remarks for the workshop.

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Good morning – unfortunately, I could not be there in person today, but it is my honor to address this workshop virtually.

I want to first start by thanking Saudi Arabia, including my TFTC counterpart and co-chair General Al Mohsen for hosting us today and commend him for his leadership of the TFTC. I also want to thank today’s participants for traveling to Riyadh and your continued commitment to advancing our partnership.

Since November, there have been more than 40 attacks on commercial and naval ships in the Red Sea with more than five occurring so far in February.

The U.S. Treasury remains committed to ensuring freedom of navigation for global shipping and commerce in the Red Sea and beyond, even when terrorists and other malicious actors seem determined to prevent it. We have mobilized all of Treasury’s tools to address maritime threats, taken action via sanctions, and coordinated with foreign partners and humanitarian actors.

This workshop is a time for TFTC to reflect on imminent threats to maritime security in the Middle East but also presents an opportunity mobilize against them.

As TFTC members, we are all deeply concerned by the escalating violence in the Red Sea. Since October 7, the Houthis have launched dozens of missile and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks targeting commercial ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

These terrorist attacks threaten the free flow of trade, disrupt global supply chains, and violate international law. You have heard from colleagues in the Office of International Affairs about the concerning economic impacts of these attacks, including potential shipping disruptions, delays, and price increases.

If we do not act swiftly to reestablish deterrence, the devastating impacts of these attacks will reverberate far beyond the region’s waters and will continue to have global economic implications.  

Protecting the region’s waterways demands action.  Houthi attacks against international maritime vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden have endangered mariners, disrupted the free flow of commerce, and interfered with navigational rights and freedoms.

This is why the United States has deployed its financial tools to target the Houthis and their financiers.  Since October 7 we have targeted Houthi military officials and financial networks in four designations, and effective on February 16, 2024, designated Ansrallah (the Houthis) as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT).

At the same time, we recognize the grave humanitarian situation in Yemen.  That is why facilitating the commercial import of critical commodities to Yemen - like food and medicine - remains a priority in addition to our efforts to preserve humanitarian assistance.

Concurrent with the announcement of the Houthis' designation, OFAC issued five additional general licenses to facilitate the delivery of commercial goods and personal remittances to Yemen.  We also maintain broad humanitarian-related general licenses in the Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulations.

Treasury leadership is committed to engaging with the commercial and humanitarian sectors operating in Yemen to ensure that they have the clarity they need to continue operating for the benefit of the Yemeni people.  That is why we have convened multiple engagements with representatives from the humanitarian, commercial, and financial sectors to discuss the designation of the Houthis and our available authorizations.

We have also worked with fellow TFTC member Bahrain within the Prosperity Guardian coalition, a part of the Combined Maritime Forces focused on ensuring commercial ships’ safe passage and protection from the Houthi’s attacks in the Red Sea. We welcome the addition of other countries to similarly participate in this forum.

Additionally, the US Coast Guard seized conventional weapons and other lethal aid that originated in Iran and was bound for Houthi-Controlled areas in late January, in an effort to continue to counter the flow of Iranian lethal aid to the Houthis.

We know that we are not alone in our concern. During today’s discussion, TFTC members discussed the significant human and financial costs of Houthi attacks and agreed that their continuation is unacceptable. Houthi activities jeopardize each TFTC member’s interests and countering them is both an economic and security imperative.

Our colleagues from the Office of Foreign Asset Control discussed terrorist networks operating in the Red Sea and potential targeting opportunities, which the TFTC should explore as the topic of future information sharing and designations. To reinforce the impact of our joint action, we must work with our respective financial and humanitarian sectors to address vulnerabilities without causing undue harm to the Yemeni people.

To restore maritime security and advance our interests, we must translate shared concern into joint action.

Since October 7, the TFTC has repeatedly discussed the importance of cooperation and harnessing the power of our partnership to promote regional stability.

Last month’s workshop on international cooperation provided us with a template for how we can leverage our tools and knowledge to share information, protect the international financial system, and disrupt financial flows.

During today’s workshop, we applied this template. During presentations, the TFTC approached maritime security from all angles, from assessing the economic impacts of maritime disruption to identifying terrorist networks operating in the Red Sea and targeting opportunities.

We should not let today’s presentations become a series of isolated discussions. Instead, as we return to our work, we should identify opportunities to engage with each other and coordinate our efforts to prevent maritime attacks.

We must mobilize around our collective commitment to maritime security, whether by sharing information when Red Sea concerns arise, protecting the international financial system from the Houthis and their financiers, or disrupting the financial flows that enable attacks.

This workshop built upon TFTC’s previous efforts to understand the new threat landscape that is developing in the Gulf and beyond. We have expressed our shared concern and built our collective knowledge. We must now go forth and act.

Thank you again to our host country and co-chair Saudi Arabia and the participants for attending this workshop. My hope is that this workshop will mark the start of a productive, coordinated effort to promote maritime security.