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Houthi strike kills 3 on international cargo carrier as group continues shipping lane attacks: US

Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen killed three civilians aboard a Barbadian and Liberian cargo carrier on Wednesday, marking the group's first fatal strike on a commercial vessel since it began a string of attacks on key shipping lanes in the region in protest of Israel's war against Hamas, according to U.S. officials.

At about 11:30 a.m. local time, the Houthis launched an anti-ship ballistic missile at the Barbados-flagged and Liberian-owned bulk carrier True Confidence as it sailed through the Gulf of Aden, south of Yemen, the officials said.

"The missile struck the vessel, and the multinational crew reports three fatalities, at least four injuries, of which three are in critical condition, and significant damage to the ship," U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

The crew abandoned the damaged vessel "and coalition warships responded and are assessing the situation," according to CENTCOM, referring to an American-led group of military ships deployed in the area to curb Houthi attacks.

The group confirmed responsibility for the strike in their own statement, blaming "American-British aggression" and saying they were supporting Palestinians.

Before Wednesday's deadly strike, the Houthis had attacked or threatened commercial vessels at least 66 times since Nov. 19, according to U.S. defense officials.

In that same time, U.S. Navy warships in the region have shot down more than 116 incoming missiles, unmanned aerial attack vehicles and waterborne drones aimed at commercial or Navy ships.

"For months, the United States has warned the world about the reckless attacks being taken by the Houthis and worked hard to counter Houthi threats," one U.S. official said.

State Department spokesperson Matt Miller described the Houthi's killing of the sailors as "sadly inevitable" during a press briefing Wednesday.

"The Houthis have continued to launch these reckless attacks with no regard for the well-being of innocent civilians who are transiting through the Red Sea," Miller said. "Now they have unfortunately and tragically killed innocent civilians."

PHOTO: Houthi fighters shout slogans while attending a funeral for comrades at a mosque in Sana'a, Yemen, on March 5, 2024.  (Yahya Arhab/EPA via Shutterstock)
PHOTO: Houthi fighters shout slogans while attending a funeral for comrades at a mosque in Sana'a, Yemen, on March 5, 2024. (Yahya Arhab/EPA via Shutterstock)

The Houthis have said their strikes are retaliation for Israel's bombardment of Gaza while targeting Hamas in the wake of Hamas' Oct. 7 terror attack.

In response to the Houthis, the U.S. and U.K. have tried to weaken the group's offensive power with four major large-scale airstrikes since early January, after the U.S. and other nations demanded the group cease its violence in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

The last of these operations was on Feb. 24.

"These reckless attacks by the Houthis have disrupted global trade and taken the lives of international seafarers simply doing their jobs, which are some of the hardest jobs in the world, and the ones relied on by the global public for sustainment of supply chains," the U.S. official said.

In addition to the large-scale strikes, the U.S. has carried out 39 "dynamic strikes" on missiles and drones being prepared to launch from Yemen since Jan. 11, four of those being carried out alongside U.K. forces, according to the Pentagon.

Some 150 missiles and launchers were taken out in these strikes, according to the Pentagon's assessment. Several drones were also destroyed.

So far, the actions of the U.S. and its allies have failed to fundamentally curb the Houthis' capabilities -- raising questions about the strategy and long-term steps -- though Pentagon officials have also cautioned that they do not want to risk a broader conflict engulfing the region.

ABC News' Shannon K. Crawford and Cindy Smith contributed to this report.

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