A wounded Yemeni protester is carried to a makeshift hospital after he was… (Mohammed Huwais, AFP/Getty…)
Reporting from Washington — A U.S. military drone strike killed a top Al Qaeda operative in Yemen and the son of Anwar Awlaki, the American-born cleric killed in a similar strike two weeks ago, Yemeni security officials said.
As political unrest continues to roil Yemen, the U.S. has escalated its attacks against Al Qaeda's affiliate in the country.
Yemeni officials told reporters that nine members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula were killed in the strike near the town of Azzan in southeastern Yemen, including Awlaki's 21-year-old son, Abdul-Rahman Awlaki, and Egyptian-born Ibrahim Banna, whom officials described as the media chief of the Al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen.
The killing of Anwar Awlaki was hailed as a major victory against Al Qaeda's most active and creative branch. Anwar Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico, was known for his carefully reasoned sermons posted on the Internet and on YouTube urging Muslims to attack the United States.
"Now is the time when they [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] are on their back heels and not the time to let up, so they don't have the time, place and space to train, plot and execute attacks. It's the right time to accelerate," said Frank Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University.
The drone strike comes as forces loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh are battling Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula for control of southern towns and cities. The militant group and southern secessionists have exploited the nation's chaos, especially in heavily armed tribal areas that have slipped from government control.
For years, the U.S. has supported Saleh as an ally to contain Al Qaeda from becoming entrenched along the shipping lanes of the Arabian Peninsula. But Saleh's bloody crackdown on peaceful antigovernment protests in the capital, Sana, has drawn criticism from the White House.
That is likely to intensify after security forces Saturday reportedly killed at least 10 protesters who were marching toward government buildings.
Times staff writer Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo contributed to this report.