Little Afghan Messi fan forced to flee to Pakistan with family after threats

Mohammad Arif Ahmadi, whose son Murtaza grabbed headlines when he was photographed wearing a homemade Argentina shirt made out of a plastic bag, said they have settled in Quetta.

Murtaza Ahmadi, an Afghan Lionel Messi fan, was forced to leave Afghanistan with his family after becoming the subject of constant threats. Mahdy Mehraeen / UNICEF via AP
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KABUL // The family of a 5-year-old Afghan boy who received autographed shirts from his football hero Lionel Messi was forced to leave Afghanistan amid constant telephone threats, the boy’s father said on Tuesday.

Mohammad Arif Ahmadi — whose son grabbed headlines when he was photographed wearing a homemade Argentina shirt made out of a plastic bag — said they have moved to neighbouring Pakistan and settled in Quetta, hoping for a better life there.

“Life became a misery for us,” said Mr Ahmadi.

He said his family did not want to leave Afghanistan, but the threats were getting more and more serious.

Mr Ahmadi said he feared that his son, Murtaza Ahmadi, would be kidnapped after becoming an internet sensation after pictures of him wearing a Messi shirt made out of a striped plastic bag went viral.

The family first travelled to Islamabad, but could not stay there long because of the high cost of living. They later moved to Quetta.

“I sold all my belongings and brought my family out of Afghanistan to save my son’s life as well as the lives of the rest of the family,” the father said.

Earlier this year, the Afghan football federation had promised to arrange a meeting between Mr Messi, a Unicef goodwill ambassador, and Murtaza. There were reports that either Messi would come to Afghanistan to visit the boy or that some other arrangement would be made, such as sending the boy to Spain, where Mr Messi plays for FC Barcelona, or arranging a meeting in a third country.

But none of the options worked out, Mr Ahmadi said.

“Still, Murtaza hopes that one day he would be able to meet his hero, Messi.”

* Associated Press