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Family of Afghan boy who received Messi's jersey forced to flee country after threats


The 5-year-old Afghan boy who gained international attention when he received an autographed jersey from his favorite soccer star was forced to flee his home country after receiving threats, according to his father.

Murtaza Ahmadi was pictured earlier this year wearing a plastic bag with Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi’s name and number scrawled across the back. The Barcelona player sent the boy a real jersey and signed it for him in February.

Now, the child’s father, Mohammad Arif Ahmadi, told the Associated Press since his son was gifted the shirt, “life became a misery for us.” They started receiving constant telephone threats and he feared his son would be kidnapped. The frightened father claimed the family received threats from the Taliban in a letter that was sent to their home in Afghanistan. "In the letter, the Taliban asked why my son was not learning the Quran (Islam's holy book) in an Islamic school and why I was instead allowing him and encouraging him to play soccer," he said.

The family moved to neighboring Pakistan. "I sold all my belongings and brought my family out of Afghanistan to save my son's life as well as the lives of the rest of the family," Mohammad said.

UNICEF, who presented the boy with Messi’s gift, has not commented on the matter.

The boy, who captured the world’s heart with his plastic Messi jersey, still hopes to meet his hero one day. Though the family and UNICEF have tried to coordinate something with the player, it has become a difficult task. The father told the AP that despite what has happened to the family: “Still, Murtaza hopes that one day he would be able to meet his hero, Messi.”

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