MEXICO CITY |(Reuters) - The Mexican army has seized just under 840 tonnes of chemicals used for making methamphetamine in a raid in central Mexico, one of the biggest finds of its kind ever made in the country.
The seizure took place in a warehouse in an industrial area in Queretaro, about 125 miles north of Mexico City, the Defense Ministry said in a statement late Wednesday.
According to local media and a leading analyst, it was the largest seizure of meth chemicals since President Felipe Calderon launched an army-led crackdown on Mexico's drug cartels shortly after taking office at the end of 2006.
"This is the biggest seizure there's been of precursor chemicals (in Mexico)," said Alberto Islas, a security expert at consultancy Risk Evaluation. It may even be the biggest seizure ever made worldwide, Islas added.
The seizure, which the army made Monday, included 787 tonnes of phenylacetamide and 52.5 tonnes of tartaric acid, all in 25 kilogram (55 pound) packets.
Both chemicals can be used in the manufacture of meth, a stimulant that is smuggled across the U.S. border and sold in crystal or powder form.
Government photos of the warehouse showed chemicals piled high in hundreds of white sacks, long rows of 200-liter (53-gallon) blue barrels, dozens of packing crates and a forklift truck.
Islas said the size of the haul showed the drugs were being manufactured on an industrial scale in Mexico.
"This corroborates the data from the U.S. Department of Justice that Mexico has become the biggest supplier, displacing the Chinese and the Russians in that market," he said.
Queretaro has not been a hotspot in the Mexican government's fight against traffickers, which is mostly focused on states on the U.S. border in the north of the country.
Meth, which can cause brain damage and violent behavior, is a law enforcement priority in the United States, where the drug has ravaged many rural communities.
Addicts sometimes cook small, homemade batches of meth using recipes found on the Internet, but strict regulations have made it more difficult for U.S. producers to compete with bigger, more sophisticated operations in Mexico.
(Reporting by Elinor Comlay and Dave Graham; Editing by Eric Beech)