Have the Houthis threatened to cut internet cables in the Red Sea? 

By February 1, 2024 International Politics

The claim that the Houthis, a Yemeni religious and military organization who control North Yemen, have threatened to cut vital internet-providing fibre optic cables has been circulating on social media.

According to the claim, this would cut off 99% of the world’s internet traffic and is part of the ongoing conflict between the Houthis and Israel, the United States and its allies. Since November 2023, the Houthis have announced and enforced a blockade on merchant ships passing through its territorial waters in the Red Sea. The US has since retaliated with airstrikes, but the conflict remains unresolved and ongoing.

The cables referred to in the claim are submarine communications cables; cables laid on the seabed which carry telecommunications signals to different regions. There are hundreds of these cables connecting different stations and systems, allowing data to be transmitted rapidly around the world. Multiple cables run past the waters of the Red Sea near Yemen and potential damage to these cables has caused concerns about a loss of internet access globally.

However, when we looked closely at the claims and attempted to trace a source, we were unable to find any evidence that the Houthis have ever directly threatened to cut the submarine communications cables.

The origin of this claim appears to be the Middle East Media Research Institute, an American organisation that has previously faced accusations of a “pro-Israel bias.” The claim was then picked up on by other news platforms. According to these platforms, on 24th December 2023, a Houthi affiliated telegram channel posted a map of submarine cables passing through the region with the [translated] message: “There are maps of international cables connecting all regions of the world through the sea. It seems that Yemen is in a strategic location, as internet lines that connect entire continents — not only countries—pass near it.”Based on the telegram post, speculations were made by these platforms about the post being a “veiled threat” to cut cables as part of the conflict. From here, social media users began spreading claims about direct threats being made, with several posts on X gaining thousands of views and new versions of the claim being posted in recent days.

We were unable to confirm or find further information about the “affiliation” (for instance, how close or distant it might be) between the Telegram channel and the Houthis, and no direct threats appear to have been made.

Further, a press release by the Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology of Yemen in response to these claims specifically denies any intent to destroy the cables, saying they are “keen to keep the telecom submarine cables away from any possible risks.”

We therefore give this claim a rating of false. The claim is based on speculation over a telegram post mentioning the undersea cables and has been denied by the Houthis.

The potential loss of internet access is an alarming and worrying notion – one which, as this claim demonstrates, can cause panic and inflame existing tensions. The need for clear cut and reliable evidence for these claims is more important than ever, given the high stakes surrounding the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. In particular, consulting multiple news or information sources to verify startling claims can prove vital in the current social media landscape of mis/disinformation.

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