The most important leader of the leftist Shining Path insurgency was shot at by Peru's security forces in a remote jungle rife with drug traffickers and may have suffered mortal wounds, Defence Minister Alberto Otarola said on Friday.

Artemio, the nom de guerre of Florindo Eleuterio Flores, heads a remnant group of guerrillas that went into the cocaine trade after the founders of the Maoist rebels were imprisoned during a bloody war against the state in the 1990s. Peru is the world's top grower of coca, the raw ingredient for cocaine.

It cannot be ruled out that Florindo Eleuterio Flores, known as Artemio, was mortally wounded, Otarola told reporters. The operation was a result of intelligence work organized by the police, and this led to a clash.

Local media reported that Artemio was shot at least three times, suffering a punctured lung and a wound to one of his hands that caused heavy bleeding. Otarola declined to speak in detail about the firefight because he said security forces were still trying to find or capture Artemio.

Peruvian anti-drug police have tried for years to arrest Artemio and the United States two years ago offered a multimillion dollar reward for information leading to his capture.

President Ollanta Humala, who fought against the Shining Path when he was a military officer in the 1990s, has vowed to step up efforts to catch people the government calls narco-terrorists. His predecessor, former President Alan Garcia, failed in his attempt to stamp out what remains of the rebels.

This was a powerful strike against the remnant terrorists, Otarola said. The government won't let up until there is total victory.

(Reporting by Teresa Cespedes and Terry Wade; Editing by Jackie Frank)