Boy who went viral after wearing plastic bag 'Messi' shirt flees home

Murtaza Ahmadi and his family fled Ghazni province in November

Boy who went viral after wearing plastic bag 'Messi' shirt flees home

Murtasa Ahmadi wearing rubber boots and a Lionel-Messi shirt fashioned from a plastic bag, in Kabul in February 2016 | Image: Hakim Mukhtar/DPA/PA Images

An Afghan boy who went viral over his love of the Argentinian footballer Lionel Messi has fled his home after being hunted by the Taliban.

Murtaza Ahmadi, now aged seven, was pictured wearing a homemade Messi shirt that his brother fashioned out of a blue and white plastic bag in 2016.

The colours matched the jersey of the Argentinian national side, and the footballer's name and shirt number were scrawled on the back in pen.

Murtaza, who later met his idol after the image went viral, fled Afghanistan's southeastern Ghazni province with his family in November.

The United Nations has said 4,000 families left amid intense fighting after the Taliban launched an offensive in the previously safe area.

Witnesses have described "absolute terror" as hundreds of civilians, soldiers and insurgents were killed in the fighting.

Murtaza's family belongs to the Shiite-denominated Hazara ethnic group, who were targeted by the Sunni Taliban in the attacks.

The boy is now living in a cramped room in the capital Kabul with his mother and brother.

His father Arif has remained in Jaghori where he works as a farmer.

FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi (left) holds the hands of Afghan boy Murtaza Ahmadi on the pitch before the start of a friendly football match against Saudi Arabia's Al-Ahli FC at Thani Bin Jassim Stadium in Doha, Qatar in December 2016 | Image: Xinhua/Sipa USA

Shafiqa has said the Taliban have been searching for her son by name.

She said: "(They) said if they capture him, they will cut him into pieces."

Murtaza's older brother Houmayoun, who made the Messi plastic bag jersey, said: "We are worried something bad will happen if they know who Murtaza is."

Shafiqa added that she hid her famous son's face with a scarf to prevent him from being recognised as they fled Ghazni.

She also told how they left their home district of Jaghori in the night after hearing gunshots.

Shafiqa said: "We couldn't take any of our belongings, we left only with our lives."

Barcelona forward Messi, a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, met with the youngster after the image emerged 2016.

Murtaza clutched the footballer's hand as he walked out onto the pitch with him for a Barcelona friendly in Qatar.

Messi gave him a signed shirt and ball, which were among the possessions left behind when the family fled Jaghori.

Murtaza said: "I want them back so I can play. I miss Messi.

"When I meet him (again), I will say, 'Salaam' and 'How are you?' Then he will reply saying thank you and be safe, and I will go with him to the pitch where he will play and I will watch him."

Sports were rarely tolerated under the 1996-2001 Taliban regime, and the Kabul football stadium was a well-known venue for stonings and executions.

The family have already fled once before when they sought asylum in Pakistan in 2016.

They returned reluctantly after their money ran out.

The family are among more than 300,000 Afghans who have fled their homes due to violence since the beginning of 2018 alone, according to the UN's agency for humanitarian affairs.