SANA, Yemen — 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 assaults, on mosques here in the capital, killed more than 130 people and helped start Yemen’s civil war in March. In recent weeks, the group has carried out powerful car bombings in southern Yemen and released videos filled with grisly executions and sectarian denunciations of Yemen’s Shiite minority. The violence has raised tensions before United Nations-brokered negotiations to end the conflict, scheduled to begin this week in Geneva, as well as a cease-fire announced by the Saudi-led coalition that is set to begin Tuesday.
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.