Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Islamic State in Yemen: Why IS is Seeking to Expand

Islamic State in Yemen: Why IS is Seeking to Expand

The bombing of two mosques in Sanaa, which killed close to 140 people and injured 350, represents another stage in Yemen’s spiralling violence.

But the significance of the bombing, which was claimed by Islamic State (IS) militants, goes beyond the horrendous human loss. If IS indeed stands behind the attack, it would not only further complicate the situation in Yemen, but also have implications for the broader struggle against IS.

IS’s need continuously to expand is a central feature in its strategy since its blitzkrieg in Iraq and Syria last year gave it control over vast territory and facilitated the announcement that it is a caliphate.

Viewing itself as the rightful leader of Muslims everywhere and as mandated by God to rule over all territories once under Muslim control and beyond, IS must spread.

Expansion is also a mobilisation tool for IS. It adds to the myth of Islamic State’s inevitability and invincibility that its leaders are trying to promote.

By building its brand name, IS seeks to convince Muslims to accept its authority and pledge their allegiance to the self-styled caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

But IS miscalculated. Early victories, astonishing as they were, reflected the poor state and morale of its opponents in the Iraqi army and the lack of advanced armament by the Syrian rebels more than the prowess of its own forces.

When IS pursued the genocide of the Yazidis, threatened Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region, and beheaded American hostages, it forced the United States to intervene.

The American intervention largely stopped IS’s advance and, in some locations, even forced IS forces to…

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