Young Afghan Messi fan threatened by criminals, Taliban
A young Afghan soccer fan who shot to fame after he was photographed in a Lionel 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 7year-old son Murtaza – a fan of Argentinian soccer star – has not been able to attend school and now they are living in an unheated room in Kabul.
“He is always cold,” she said. Temperatures in Kabul hover around 52 degrees Fahrenheit 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 2017.
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.
Last November, when Taliban fighters launched attacks in their home district of Joguri in violent Ghazni province, the family fled to the relative safety of Bamiyan province in Central Afghanistan.
Murtaza’s uncle Asif Ahmedi said the family received at least 10 letters and several phone calls from a variety of criminal gangs.