Afghan boy threatened by criminals, Taliban
Young Messi fan’s life in jeopardy
KABUL — A young Afghan soccer fan who shot to fame after he was photographed in a Messi shirt made from a plastic bag has been forced to flee with his family to the capital after criminal gangs and the Taliban threatened to kill or kidnap him, his mother said Friday.
Since becoming an Internet sensation, Shafiqa Ahmedi said her now 7-year-old son, Murtaza — a fan of Argentinian soccer star Lionel Messi — hasn’t been able to attend school and now they’re living in an unheated room in Kabul.
She said the cold and the damp are making Murtaza sick.
“He is always cold,” she said. Temperatures in Kabul hover around 11 C during the day.
The picture of Murtaza in his plastic Messi shirt playing soccer went viral on social media two years ago. He met his hero in December last year.
But his popularity has turned into a nightmare for Murtaza and his family.
“I wish Murtaza had never become so famous,” she told The Associated Press. “It has created a big problem for us and for him. For the last two years we have not been able to send him to school. I wish none of this had ever happened.”
Criminals threatened to kidnap Murtaza after demanding money, assuming the boy’s brush with fame somehow resulted in a windfall of money. Taliban insurgents stopped local school buses asking if anyone knew of Murtaza. They, too, had seen pictures of young Murtaza meeting Messi in the Middle Eastern state of Qatar, where he received a T-shirt from his hero.
Murtaza Ahmadi, inset, a Lionel Messi fan, shows Messi’s signature on a shirt, at his relative’s home in Kabul yesterday. Murtaza has been forced to flee with his family to the capital after criminal gangs and the Taliban threatened to kill or kidnap him, his mother says.