Sunday, 16 December, 2018

Afghanistan's 'little Messi' leaves behind signed shirt as family flees Taliban offensive

Murtaza Ahmadi became an Internet sensation after wearing a plastic bag Lionel Messi Argentina shirt went viral. AFP Murtaza Ahmadi became an Internet sensation after wearing a plastic bag Lionel Messi Argentina shirt went viral. AFP
Cassandra Castillo | 08 December, 2018, 07:13

Murtaza Ahmadi, the Afghan boy who two years ago melted hearts around the world when he was pictured wearing a plastic-bag mock-up shirt of his hero Lionel Messi, has been forced to flee his home amid a Taliban onslaught.

"I miss Messi", he said.

Shafiqa said: "We couldn't take any of our belongings, we left only with our lives".

The Barcelona star led the kid onto the pitch as the Spanish champions defeated Al-Ahli 5-3 in a friendly match played in Qatar on Tuesday night, December 13, 2016.

Murtaza's family are part of the Shia-denominated Hazara ethnic group, which has been targeted by the Sunni Taliban.

Barcelona forward Messi, a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, met with the youngster after the image emerged 2016. Hundreds of civilians, soldiers, and insurgents were killed in the fighting.

The United Nations, in a short report, reported "families repeatedly displaced in search of safe places", "burned houses" and "violation of global humanitarian rules". The Taliban are intolerant of sports and often held public executions in football stadiums when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001.

"The danger of the Taliban coming back is high, going back is not an option", Shafiqa said.

Speaking further, Shafiqa revealed she constantly hide her famous son's face from being spotted, while running for their life. The family said it first took refuge in a mosque in the city of Bamyan (center), and landed six days later in Kabul.Among the things left behind, there are the gifts of Leo Messi, which the father, who remained in Jaghori, keeps preciously.

Afghan security forces have beaten back the Taliban in Jaghori, but Shafiqa has said she doesn't feel her family is safe there.

Because before fleeing the Taliban threat, always present, Shafiqa tells the "fear" of losing his son.

Murtaza was given an official Messi Argentina shirt. Courtesy Unicef
Murtaza was given an official Messi Argentina shirt. Courtesy Unicef

Murtaza was given an official Messi Argentina shirt.

The boy and his family were also forced to flee in 2016, when they went to Pakistan after being threatened by local extremist groups.

They returned reluctantly to Jaghori after their money ran out, she said.

Arif, the father, had chose to face the threats.

The pressure has only increased since Murtaza's photos went viral.

"At night we would sometimes see unknown men, watching and checking our house, and then the calls". 'We are anxious something bad will happen if they know who Murtaza is, ' he said.

They are among the more than 300,000 Afghans - 58 percent of whom are under the age of 18 - who have fled their homes due to violence since the beginning of this year alone, according to the most recent tally by the UN's agency for humanitarian affairs. "We are afraid that something bad will happen if someone comes to know", said the 17-year-old.

"She said: "(They) said if they capture him, they will cut him into pieces".

"What I want is to be next to him, to help me get out of this place", he sighs.

'I miss Messi, ' he added.

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