An Afghan boy who earned online fame due to his admiration for Lionel Messi has been forced to abandon his home after it came under Taliban attack.
Pictures of Murtaza Ahmadi went viral on social media in 2016 when he was seen playing football in his village in Aghanistan wearing a homemade Argentina jersey out of a plastic bag with Messi and No. 10 written in blue marker.
The seven-year-old boy was forced to leave the south-eastern Ghazni province, which is under state control but is targeted by the Taliban, and seek safety in Kabul with his mother and siblings. The Ahmadi family evacuated their home in the middle of the night after hearing gunshots and left all of their possessions behind, including Murtaza’s precious signed Messi jersey.
“Local strongmen were calling and saying, ‘You have become rich, pay the money you have received from Messi or we will take your son,'” his mother, Shafiqa Ahmadi, told AFP.
“The Taliban say if they capture him, he will be cut into pieces.”
Murtaza’s father, Arif, who works as a farmer, has remained in the Jaghori district.
More than 300,000 Afghans, 58 percent of who are under the age of 18, have fled their homes since the start of the year, displaced by war.
“I like Messi a lot,” Murtaza said in Kabul. “I want to live close to him and he should take me out of this place.”
It’s not the first time Murtaza has had to leave his home. In 2016, his family had to seek short-term refuge in Pakistan and the family again fled in earlier this year.