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DUBAI, Oct 7, (AFP): An unprecedented attack on Yemen’s government claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group has raised a fresh challenge for the Saudi-led coalition backing the embattled president, analysts say. IS bombings on Tuesday hit the government’s temporary headquarters in the southern city of Aden and military installations used by the coalition which is fighting Shiite Houthi rebels, killing more than 15 people.
The IS, which controls swathes of Syria and northern Iraq, has previously carried out several deadly attacks and suicide bombings against the Houthis. But it had not targeted forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi or Gulf troops deployed in Yemen as part of the coalition.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have contributed the bulk of forces to the campaign against the rebels, also both belong to a USled coalition bombing IS in Syria and Iraq. “DAESH is trying to expand its space in Yemen by apparently posing as an opponent of the coalition,” said Jean-Pierre Filiu, an expert on contemporary Islam, using the Arabic acronym for IS. The spectacular attacks by IS allow its militants to “differentiate themselves once again from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula”, following its deadly bombings of Shiite mosques in Sanaa, said Filiu, a professor at the School of International Affairs in Paris.
The Soufan Group intelligence consultancy based in New York has said: “The ongoing war in Yemen has been a disaster for almost everyone involved, except the Islamic State. “The war in Yemen is a perfect laboratory for a terror group seeking regional expansion like the Islamic State.” Experts agree that the IS attacks further complicate the task facing the coalition, which despite seven months of air strikes and the deployment of thousands of troops on the ground has not managed to break the back of the rebels.
The Houthi rebels and allied troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh remain in control of northern Yemen and the capital Sanaa, which they overran in September 2014. The attacks are “likely to spark some debate within the coalition about the direction of policy,” said Jane Kinninmont, deputy head of the Middle East programme at London’s Chatham House think-tank. Although IS is “new to Yemen,” the conflict and the worsening humanitarian situation “create fertile ground for radicalisation”, she said.