Young Afghan Messi sup­porter threat­ened by crim­i­nals, Tal­iban

The Bradenton Herald - - Sports - BY AMIR SHAH

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 7-year-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.

She said the cold and the damp are mak­ing Mur­taza sick.

“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 Tshirt 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.

But the threats con­tin­ued.

The move to the Afghan cap­i­tal three weeks ago has been painful. Mur­taza is the youngest of five chil­dren and the fam­ily is pay­ing the equiv­a­lent of about $90 a month for a room in the Af­shar neigh­bor­hood in north­west Kabul.

Mur­taza’s un­cle Asif Ahmedi said the fam­ily re­ceived at least 10 let­ters and sev­eral phone calls from a va­ri­ety of crim­i­nal gangs threat­en­ing to kill Mur­taza or kid­nap him if they didn’t give them money.

“Ev­ery­one thinks that be­cause he be­came famous that we now have lots of money, but we are poor peo­ple,” he said. “The gun­men in our area were say­ing, ‘You got lots of money from Messi and you should give us the money oth­er­wise your son will be kid­napped.’ ”

Crim­i­nal gangs roam freely in most of Afghanistan, which has been at war for 17 years.

Most of the coun­try’s 38 mil­lion peo­ple are dirt poor and the coun­try’s po­lice and army have been be­sieged by Tal­iban in­sur­gents in near daily at­tacks. Cor­rup­tion is ram­pant in Afghanistan and many lo­cal po­lice are in ca­hoots with crim­i­nal gangs.

MASSOUD HOSSAINI AP

Mur­taza Ah­madi and his fam­ily have been forced to flee to the cap­i­tal af­ter crim­i­nal gangs and the Tal­iban threat­ened to kill or kid­nap him, his mother said Fri­day.

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