The Yemeni government is holding back repairs on a key internet cable that’s been damaged in the Red Sea, as it conducts a criminal investigation into the cable owners’ alleged ties to the Houthi militia.

The Iran-backed Houthis control much of Yemen’s telecommunications infrastructure, including a branch of the country’s only international carrier, TeleYemen.

TeleYemen is part of a consortium of operators that owns the damaged AAE-1 cable, a 25 000km system that connects Europe to Southeast Asia.

The Yemeni government has notified about 20 members of the global group — including Emirates Telecommunications Group, Saudi Arabia’s Mobily, Italy’s Retelit, Oman Telecommunications, and Djibouti Telecom — that they are being probed for their association with TeleYemen and may be providing material support to a designated terrorist group.

While the investigation is ongoing, the government won’t give the all-clear for repairs to start in its territory.

The Houthi-controlled telecoms ministry said the investigation is baseless and that “any promulgation of such allegations contributes to the destruction of the Yemeni telecoms sector”.

“It will have negative and harmful effects on the interests of international companies and their investments in the region, something we have always warned about.”

Cable operators need a government permit to make repairs in Yemeni waters. While the country’s internationally-recognised government approved repairs to the other two cables earlier this month, it has so far refused to issue a permit to fix the AAE-1 cable.

Telecoms companies are a key source of revenue for the Houthi authorities.