Afghan boy who met foot­ball star Messi on run af­ter Tal­iban threats

Belfast Telegraph - - NEWS - BY AMIR SHAH

A YOUNG Afghan foot­ball fan who shot to fame af­ter he was pic­tured in a Lionel Messi shirt made from a plas­tic bag has been forced to flee with his fam­ily due to threats from crim­i­nal gangs, his mother has said.

Since be­com­ing an in­ter­net sen­sa­tion, Shafiqa Ah­madi said her now seven-year-old son Murtaza, a huge fan of Ar­gen­tinian foot­ball star Messi, has not been able to at­tend school and they are now liv­ing in an un­heated room in Kabul.

She said the cold and the damp is mak­ing Murtaza sick. “He is al­ways cold,” she added. Tem­per­a­tures in Kabul hover around 11C dur­ing the day at this time of year.

The pic­ture of Murtaza in his plas­tic shirt while play­ing foot­ball went vi­ral on so­cial me­dia two years ago and he met his hero last De­cem­ber.

But his pop­u­lar­ity has turned into a night­mare for him and his fam­ily.

“I wish Murtaza had never be­come so fa­mous,” she said.

“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 cash.

Tal­iban in­sur­gents stopped lo­cal school buses — ask­ing if any­one knew of Murtaza.

They had seen the pic­tures of Murtaza meet­ing Messi in Qatar, where he re­ceived a T-shirt from his hero.

Last Novem­ber, when Tal­iban fighters launched a se­ries of at­tacks in their home dis­trict of Joguri in the Ghazni prov­ince, the fam­ily fled to the rel­a­tive safety of Bamiyan prov­ince in cen­tral Afghanistan.

But the threats con­tin­ued and the move to the Afghan cap­i­tal three weeks ago has been painful.

M ur taza is the youngest of five chil­dren.

His fam­ily is pay­ing the equiv­a­lent of about 90 dol­lars a month for a room in Kabul.

Murtaza’s un­cle Asif Ah­madi said that the fam­ily re­ceived at least 10 let­ters and sev­eral phone calls from crim­i­nal gangs threat­en­ing to kill Murtaza or kid­nap him if they did not give them money.

Or­deal: Murtaza Ah­madi (7) with a Barcelona shirt signed by his foot­balling hero Lionel Messi

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