ISLAMIC STATE: Gaining Strength in Yemen, Rivaling this Other Terror Group

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Hopefully these rival terror groups kill each other off.

Nine months of war between a Saudi-led military coalition and a Yemeni rebel group have left thousands of civilians dead, a nation gravely polarized and the land strewn with debris, mines and unexploded bombs.

The conflict has produced another bitter legacy: a new branch of the Islamic State that has quietly grown in strength and appears determined to distinguish itself as Yemen’s most disruptive and brutal force, carrying out attacks considered too extreme even by the country’s branch of Al Qaeda.

The Islamic State’s deadliest attack, on mosques here in the capital, killed more than 130 people and helped start Yemen’s civil war in March. Now, as mediators are struggling to end the conflict, the group is fueling new tensions by carrying out powerful car bombings in southern Yemen and releasing videos filled with grisly executions and sectarian denunciations of Yemen’s Shiite minority.

Like Islamic State affiliates in Egypt and Libya, the Yemeni group has shown signs it is more closely coordinating its activities with the headquarters in Syria, analysts said. And its emergence has only added to the peril from Sunni extremism in Yemen, already home to a powerful branch of Al Qaeda that has been able to seize territory during the latest conflict, including Al Mukalla, the country’s fifth-largest city.

American intelligence and counterterrorism analysts say the Qaeda affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, remains the most urgent militant threat in this fractured country. But they are closely watching the effort by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, to peel off defectors from Al Qaeda’s wing here.

“The pace of its attacks and declarations of new provinces during the past year underscores the group’s ambitions in Yemen,” said an American counterterrorism official, referring to the Islamic State. “While some may not consider ISIL’s Yemen affiliate to be as worrying as the group’s other hubs, there are a number of factors that indicate the branch should be taken seriously in the long term.”

An analyst in Yemen who closely follows Sunni extremist groups in the country said the scale of the attacks by the Islamic State showed that it was becoming just as dangerous as Al Qaeda. At the start of Yemen’s civil war, the Islamic State’s presence was “limited,” said the analyst, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the hazards of talking openly about the group.

As the war has spread across Yemen and the violence intensifies, the group’s “recruiting circle is expanding,” he added.

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