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Afghan boy’s family forced to flee Taliban after he receives autographed Lionel Messi jersey

Mohammad Arif Ahmadi, Murtaza Ahmadi

Mohammad Arif Ahmadi holds his son, Murtaza, 5, near their home in Quetta, Pakistan on May 3.

(Banaras Khan / AFP/Getty Images)

Young Murtaza Ahmadi is still a huge fan of soccer superstar Lionel Messi.

“Messi, you know how much I like you,” the 5-year-old originally from Afghanistan told the BBC. “Now I want you to invite me so I can come and meet you.”

That might be one of the few things that hasn’t changed for the boy since he gained international fame after being photographed wearing a homemade Messi jersey and then receiving an authentic, autographed version of the shirt from his idol earlier this year.

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His father, Mohammad Arif Ahmadi, said he and his family were forced to move from their home in the province of Ghazni to the city of Quetta in neighboring Pakistan because of constant threats.

“A few days ago I got a call from a local gangster,” the father told the BBC. “He thought that since my son had received these T-shirts from Messi that maybe he also got money and asked for his share.”

He told the Associated Press about a letter he says was from the Taliban: “In the letter, the Taliban asked why my son was not learning the Koran in an Islamic school and why I was instead allowing him and encouraging him to play soccer.”

Men’s soccer was not one of the sports banned by the Taliban during its 1996-2001 reign in Afghanistan, although it did use the main Kabul soccer stadium as a stage for public executions.

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Eventually, Mohammad Arif Ahmadi said, the family sold all of their belongings and left their home for a safer place to live. “Life became a misery for us,” he said.

Now living in another country and in one room with seven other family members, Murtaza Ahmadi’s enthusiasm toward a certain soccer player doesn’t seem to have faded one bit.

“Still, Murtaza hopes that one day he would be able to meet his hero, Messi,” his father said.

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