- The family of the Afghan boy in viral Messi shirt was forced to leave their village due to threats
- The threats came from Islamist radical groups as well as from a local gangster
- They have applied for asylum to live in the neighboring Pakistan
The family of the Afghan boy who gained worldwide fame for sporting a Lionel Messi shirt fashioned out of a plastic bag was reportedly forced to flee their village after receiving threats from Islamist radical groups and local gangsters.
Five-year-old Murtaza Ahmadi and his family is now seeking asylum to live in Pakistan after a group called the father, Muhamad Arif Ahmadi, demanding why he teaches the boy soccer instead of Quran.
“I received 20-30 unknown threatening calls in Afghanistan asking why I’m teaching my kid about football and not teaching him about the Quran,” the father told CNN.
“I thought, ‘I’m not safe here.’ That’s when I decided to come to Pakistan. Afghanistan cannot protect itself, so how can it protect me and my kids?” he said.
Threats of kidnap too
In a separate interview with BBC, the father also revealed they received threats of kidnap from a local gangster who demanded money from the family.
The gang supposedly believed that since the boy received gifts from Lionel Messi, they might have received money too.
“He thought that since my son had received these T-shirts from Messi that maybe he also got money and asked for his share,” Arif told BBC.
Murtaza became an online sensation after his photo wearing an improvised No. 10 Messi shirt made out of a blue-striped plastic bag went viral when it was shared on Twitter by an account with link to the Argentinian football hero.
The Twitter post sparked a worldwide manhunt for the boy who was later identified as Murtaza from the remote village of Jaghori in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province.
He has since received gifts from Messi including an authentic football jersey.
Taliban could be behind calls
The family also suspected the Taliban group could be behind some of the phone calls after receiving a letter supposedly coming from the terrorist group, although the latter has yet to confirm this.
Murtaza and his family left Afghanistan about 40 days ago and temporarily settled in Islamabad, only to leave the city again due to the high cost of living.
They are now cramped in a small room in the city of Quetta and is waiting for the United Nations to approve their application for asylum.