Peruvian officials faced a dilemma Sunday over what to do with the body of Abimael Guzman, the late founder of the brutal Shining Path guerrilla group, amid concerns his remains could be a rallying point for supporters.

Guzman, leader of the group that spread terror across Peru in the 1980s and 1990s, died on Saturday in a military prison, aged 86.

By law, prisoner's remains should be turned over to a direct relative, but Guzman had none except his wife Elena Iparraguirre, the Shining Path's former second-in-command, who is also serving a life sentence for terrorism.

Iparraguirre has given power of attorney to former prison mate Iris Quinonez to retrieve the body for burial.

The public prosecutor's office in the city of Callao said Sunday afternoon the petition to release the body "will be evaluated in the next hours."

It said Guzman died of pneumonia and his body is being held in the city morgue under police guard awaiting a legal ruling.

There is widespread support for Guzman's body to be cremated and the ashes spread in the Pacific Ocean, lest a gravesite serve as a rallying point for supporters.

"The remains of this genocidal killer should not be delivered to relatives, and since his wife can't receive them because she's imprisoned, the logical and reasonable step would be to cremate the body and throw the ashes in the sea," political analyst Fernando Rospigliosi told AFP.

"No place of worship should be created for his followers."

People outside Peru's Anti-Terrorism Direction (DIRCOTE) in Lima celebrate the death of imprisoned Shining Path leader Abimael Guzman People outside Peru's Anti-Terrorism Direction (DIRCOTE) in Lima celebrate the death of imprisoned Shining Path leader Abimael Guzman Photo: AFP / Ernesto BENAVIDES

Justice Minister Anibal Torres also favors cremation "so there can be no place for certain Peruvians who want to pay tribute to this character to go," he said Saturday.

Paying tribute to Guzman and holding demonstrations in his memory is considered apologism for terrorism, which is punishable by law, he added.

An autopsy showed Guzman died of bilateral pneumonia -- also known as double pneumonia -- an infection that inflames both lungs and has been associated with Covid-19, the attorney general's office said in a statement.

The bodies of people who died of Covid-19 must be cremated according to an emergency health legislation.

Guzman's attorneys said their client was fully vaccinated.

Guzman was serving a life sentence in the maximum security jail at the Callao naval base near Lima.

He and Iparraguirre were captured together in September 1992 and married in 2010, even though they are being held in different prisons.

A former philosophy professor, Guzman was the intellectual architect behind the Maoist guerilla group's brutal, 20-year attempt to overthrow the Peruvian government from 1980 to 2000.

That conflict -- in which Guzman hoped to impose the Marxist model of his icon, Mao Zedong, on Peru -- claimed 70,000 lives, either dead or disappeared, according to the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Guzman also embraced the brutal methods of Cambodian dictator Pol Pot, earning a reputation as a hardened revolutionary prepared to order the massacre of the residents of the Andean village of Soras in 1984 to punish them for refusing to support him. Over 100 people were killed.