Conflicts & War

Afghanistan’s ‘Little Messi’ living in hiding since Taliban return

Kabul, Sep 2 (EFE).- The Afghan boy who shot to fame in 2016 for wearing a plastic bag with football legend Lionel Messi’s name and number scrawled at the back is now living in hiding with his family in Kabul after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in mid-August.

Murtaza Ahmadi, now 10 years old, became a global sensation overnight in 2016 when a photograph of him wearing a blue and white striped plastic bag jersey, with “Messi 10” written on the back, went viral.

Since then, the boy and his family have been displaced several times due to insecurity in the country and constant threats from the Taliban due to his rise to fame as Messi’s fan.

They were displaced yet again two months ago from their native village in Jaghori, in the southern Ghazni province, to Kabul, where they have been living in hiding over the last few weeks.

“I am stuck in the house and cannot go out as I am very afraid of the Taliban,” the boy told EFE, adding that he often wakes up at night, screaming out of fear.

“I dream that the Taliban come and knock on our door and shout at me,” he said, while kicking a ball in the small rented room he shares with his family, unable to play outdoors due to the threats.

“I want to travel from Afghanistan to a safe place. Please save me from this situation,” he said, appealing to footballers around the world, including Messi, for help to flee the country so that he could “play football in peace.”

Moreover, Murtuza belongs to the persecuted Hazara community, which has often been targeted by the Islamic State Khorasan Province (IS-K), the regional affiliate of the Islamic State group.

The group has carried out deadly attacks on gyms, educational and religious institutions and even public transportation, causing hundreds of civilian casualties.

Murtaza became a target for the conservative groups and even kidnappers after he received a signed T-shirt and football from Messi and then travelled to Qatar where he met his idol in 2016, which gave rise to rumors among his relatives that Messi had given the boy a lot of money.

The family has constantly received threats, mostly on the phone, forcing them to change their residence almost every year.

“We are very scared that once the Taliban settle down in Kabul, they may start door-to-door searches and find Murtaza and us. What will happen to us?” his 22-year-old sister, Mahdia Ahmadi, told EFE.

“Kabul was secure two months back when we arrived here, we had the police and the army who were protecting us, now we have no one to protect us,” she added.

Mahdia further said that whenever someone knocks on their door, Murtaza thinks its the Taliban and “runs toward me or my mother to hide.”

Due to the constant threats and incessant moving around, Murtaza has been unable to attend school regularly and despite being 10 years old, is still in the second grade.

The Ahmadi family had fled to Pakistan in May 2016 hoping to get asylum in the United States.

However, their asylum request was rejected and they were forced to return to their village, only to be displaced repeatedly.

They are now trying to flee the country once again but have not been successful so far.

Tens of thousands of Afghans have been trying every possible option to flee the country, wary of the promises and assurances of normalcy made by the Islamists, who have also announced a general amnesty for everyone who worked against them in the last 20 years.

There have been reports of Taliban fighters going door-to-door to hunt down former government officials, security forces members, activists and journalists in different parts of the country.

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