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Waliur Rehman's death prompt Pakistani Taliban to pull back peace talks offer

Updated at 11:16 a.m. ET

PESHAWAR, Pakistan The Pakistani Taliban's spokesman says they are withdrawing their offer of peace talks following the death of the group's deputy leader in a suspected American drone attack.

Ahsanullah Ahsan confirmed to The Associated Press in a telephone call from an undisclosed location Thursday that the group's second-in-command, Waliur Rehman, was killed Wednesday in a drone attack in the tribal areas of Pakistan that border Afghanistan.

Seven people were reportedly killed in the strike. The CIA has not yet confirmed that one of them was Rehman.

The drone-fired missiles slammed into a house on the outskirts of Miran Shah, the main town in the North Waziristan tribal region, according to Pakistani intelligence officials.

Rehman was buried hours after he was killed, intelligence officials and militants said Thursday. His death is a major blow to the militant group whose bombings and other attacks have killed thousands.

The militant group had said earlier that it was open to peace talks with the newly elected Pakistani government. But Ahsan said Thursday that the Taliban believes the government approves of the drone strikes so they are withdrawing their offer of peace talks.

Rehman had previously been considered more amenable to peace talks than his superior, Hakeemullah Mehsud, who remains at large.

Two intelligence officials told The Associated Press on Thursday that informants on the ground told them Rehman was buried on Wednesday night. Also, two militants told the AP they attended the funeral. All four spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Journalists have little access to North Waziristan or other tribal regions bordering Afghanistan, making independent confirmation of the claims difficult.

The missile attack was the first since Pakistan's May 11 elections, which ushered in a new ruling party that has promised to push the U.S. to end such strikes. It also followed President Obama's speech last Thursday during which he pledged more restrictive rules on the use of drones.

White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to confirm Wednesday if Rehman was dead. He said if it's true, Rehman's death would deprive the militant group of its chief military strategist, a man the U.S. says was involved in an attack that killed seven CIA employees in Afghanistan.

In 2010, Washington offered $5 million for information leading to Rehman.

The U.S. drone program is deeply unpopular in Pakistan, even though the number of strikes has dropped significantly since 2010. The strikes usually target al Qaeda-linked insurgents or other militants who fight in Afghanistan, but some have killed militants at war with Pakistan's government.

The Pakistani Taliban has been battling government forces for years in a bid to push them from the tribal regions, cut Pakistan's ties with the U.S. and eventually establish their brand of hardline Islam across Pakistan.

Pakistan's incoming prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, has said he is against the use of American drones on Pakistani soil, and that he is open to negotiating with the Pakistani Taliban. But Rehman's death could complicate that by depriving the process of a potential key player.

Rehman was believed to be about 42 or 43 years old and was from South Waziristan, said Mansur Mahsud, director of administration and research at the Islamabad-based FATA Research Center. He had already been fighting American troops in Afghanistan when the Pakistani Taliban was created in late 2007 and he turned his focus more onto Pakistani targets.

"He was a very cool-minded person, a very intelligent person and he was someone that the government could talk to," Mahsud said.

The Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the drone strike Wednesday but did not mention Rehman. Senior Pakistani civilian and military officials are known to have supported some of the drone strikes in the past, but many say that is no longer the case.

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