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  1. ITV Report

Family of Afghan boy who wore Lionel Messi shirt made from bag forced to flee home amid Taliban death threats

Murtaza Ahmadi shot to fame after wearing a Messi 'shirt' made from a carrier bag. Credit: Facebook

A young Afghan boy who shot to fame after wearing a Lionel Messi shirt made out of a carrier bag has been forced to flee his home for the second time after the Taliban threatened to kill or kidnap him and "cut him into pieces".

Murtaza Ahmadi, now aged seven, became an internet sensation in 2016 after he was pictured wearing his makeshift Messi shirt.

The creation even caught the attention of the Barcelona and Argentina captain, who invited Murtaza to travel to Qatar to meet him ahead of the club's match again Al-Ahli Saudi FC, where he accompanied Messi on to the pitch and posed in the team photo.

Messi also sent Murtaza two signed shirts.

Lionel Messi sent Murtaza two signed shirts and the youngster eventually got to meet his hero. Credit: AP

Murtaza, originally from the Ghazni province in rural eastern Afghanistan, and had asked his family for a shirt like his hero, but unable to afford one, his father Mohammad Arif Ahmadi dressed him in a blue and white plastic bag which mimicked the Argentina colours.

Soon after Murtaza made global headlines, his family was forced to move to Pakistan after being bombarded with threatening phone calls.

At the time Mr Ahmadi said his family made the move over fears their son would be kidnapped.

"Life became a misery for us," he said after the family relocated to Quetta.

"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."

Shafiqa Ahmadi said she wished her son had never gained fame. Credit: AP

However, the family moved back to Jaghori in the Ghazni province after their money ran out, but now they have been forced to flee again, this time to the Afghan capital of Kabul following an offensive by the Taliban in the area against Hazaras, an ethnic group which the Ahmadis belong to.

Not only did their ethnicity bring danger for the Ahmadi family, Taliban insurgents were looking for Murtaza and stopping school buses asking if he was on them.

Under the Taliban regime which lasted from 1996-2001 in Afghanistan, sport was banned and public executions took place in sports stadiums.

"I do not know why the Taliban want him [Murtaza] since he became famous, they said if they captured him, they would cut him to pieces," Murtaza's mother, Shafiqa Ahmadi said.

Her son's popularity has turned into a nightmare for Murtaza and his family.

“I wish Murtaza had never become so famous,” Ms Ahmadi said.

“It has created a big problem for us and for him.

"For the last two years we have not been able to send him to school.

“I wish none of this had ever happened.”

Murtaza Ahmadi wanted a real Messi shirt, but his family was unable to buy him one. Credit: Facebook

The family are currently living in one unheated room in Kabul - which sees highs of around 11C (51.8F) during the day - and Murtaza is unable to go to school over fears he will be recognised.

AFP news agency reported days of fighting and "absolute terror" following the insurgency which caused the death of several hundred soldiers, insurgents, militia and civilians.

The United Nations, in a short report, reported "families repeatedly displaced in search of safe places", "burned houses" and "violation of international humanitarian rules".

Some 4,000 families are thought to have fled Jaghori.

Even before the family fled the Taliban, they feared for their safety, with criminal gangs threatening to kidnap Murtaza as they believed Messi had given the family money, Ms Ahmadi said.

Murtaza's recent escape from the Taliban means he is now one of more than 300,000 internally displaced people in Afghanistan, 58% of who are under the age of 18, who have fled their homes since the start of the year, according to a recent UN countdown.