The latest U.S. drone strike in Yemen killed al-Qaeda's media operations leader for the country, along with eight other men. The dead included the 21-year-old son of Anwar al-Awlaki, the militant cleric who was accused of orchestrating terrorist attacks, including the attempted bombing of an airliner over Detroit in 2009. The elder al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, was killed in a separate drone attack on September 30.

The drone strike came on a day of rising chaos in Yemen. In the capital of Sanaa, security forces from the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh fired on demonstrators who want Saleh to become the latest autocrat to fall in the wave of revolutions that has swept Arab and North African countries over this year. At least 12 people died, Al Jazeera reported, and fighting also erupted in the north of the city.

Ibrahim al-Bana, the media chief, was killed in the south of Yemen, which the Associated Press called "largely lawless." The attack came overnight, first in a drone strike on a house where al-Qaeda operatives had just convened. The men had left when the house was hit, but they were hit by a second strike as they fled in SUVs. The explosion left the men's bodies charred, the AP said.

There's a reason the Obama administration has seemed to be pounding Yemen's Islamic militants: they are, the U.S. believes, the most dangerous, and the ones most able to flourish in a country whose leadership is currently focused solely on saving itself.

Yemen’s al-Qaida offshoot has taken advantage of the political turmoil roiling the country. Saleh, who has ruled the country for more than 30 years, has been struggling to stay in power in the face of eight months of massive street protests demanding his ouster and the defection to the opposition of key aides and military commanders.

Militants linked to AQAP have taken over several cities in the south, raising fears that they could establish a permanent stronghold in this strategically located nation. Yemen is located at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, on the doorstep of Saudi Arabia and the oil-producing nations of the Gulf. It also overlooks strategic sea routes leading to the Suez Canal.

In a separate development, the security officials said suspected al Qaeda militants bombed a key underground gas pipeline that extends from the Balhaf area in Shabwa to an export terminal on the Arabian Sea. The Friday night attack started a massive fire, with columns of flames illuminating the night sky.