Murtaza Ahmadi, a 7-year-old fan of FC Barcelona player Lionel Messi who achieved online fame for his homemade jersey, has been forced to flee his home district in south-eastern Ghazni province due to a Taliban attack.
Murtaza’s family is among those that had to flee the district of Jaghori after Taliban militants launched an attack there in November. The family has rented a small room in Kabul with no heating as the winter approaches.
The young football fan rose to fame after a picture of him wearing a blue and white plastic bag scribbled with Messi’s name and number 10 went viral.
Following widespread media coverage that drew the attention of the FC Barcelona player, Murtaza met his idol in Qatar in 2016 and went to the pitch holding Messi’s hand.
When Murtaza returned to Afghanistan, his family was threatened by anonymous callers, who warned them the boy would be kidnapped unless they paid a sum of money.
The fear of losing Murtaza prompted his parents to restrict the boy’s movements outside his home, according to his 17-year-old brother Humayun Ahmadi and mother Shafiqa Ahmadi.
The attack on their previously safe district drove them to flee at night. They left football jersey behind, after the father received a call that a border town in the district had been overrun by Taliban.
“We left our home with the clothes we had on,” Humayun Ahmadi said. The family then spent five nights in a secluded town, he said.
Murtaza’s mother said the family cannot return due to the threats.