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Taliban’s threats force Afghan boy, fan of Messi, into exile


Photo: Murtaza Ahmadi posing with a jersey sent to him by Argentine football star Lionel Messi. (AFP/UNICEF)

Photo: Murtaza Ahmadi posing with a jersey sent to him by Argentine football star Lionel Messi. (AFP/UNICEF)

Amid constant telephone threats and a menacing Taliban letter, the family of a 5-year-old Afghan boy who received autographed shirts from his soccer hero, Lionel Messi has been forced to leave Afghanistan.

The boy’s father, Mohammad Arif Ahmadi–whose son grabbed headlines when he was photographed wearing a homemade Argentina shirt with No. 10 on the back–said on Tuesday that they had moved to neighbouring Pakistan and settled in the city of Quetta, hoping for a better life there.

“Life became a misery for us,” said Ahmadi, speaking to The Associated Press over the telephone from Quetta. He added that the family didn’t want to leave Afghanistan, but the threats were just getting more and more serious.

Ahmadi said he feared that his son Murtaza would be kidnapped after becoming an Internet sensation — both at home in Afghanistan and beyond — after pictures of him wearing a Messi shirt made out of a striped plastic bag went viral.

Ahmadi said that at first he was not sure who was behind all the phone calls, and that he thought it might be criminal gangs seeking to extort money and falsely thinking the family might have made lots of cash amid the boy’s international popularity.

But he said he realised it was the Taliban after he received a call from a local driver in the area who told him he was bringing him a letter.

“It was a letter sent by the Taliban,” Ahmadi said.

The Taliban have not commented on the case of the 5-year-old Murtaza and their spokesman was not immediately reachable for comment.

The Ahmadi family first traveled to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, but couldn’t stay there long because of the high cost of living. They later moved to Quetta.

“In the letter, the Taliban asked why my son was not learning the Quran (Islam’s holy book) in an Islamic school and why I was instead allowing him and encouraging him to play soccer,” he added.

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