BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) – Gunmen threatened Argentine soccer superstar Lionel Messi in a written message sent Thursday as they opened fire on a supermarket owned by his in-laws in Argentina, police said.
No one was injured in the early morning attack, and it was unclear why assailants would target Messi or the Unico supermarket in the country’s third-largest city of Rosario, owned by the family of his wife, Antonella Roccuzzo.
The city’s mayor, Pablo Javkin, went to the supermarket and lashed out at federal authorities over what he called their failure to curb a rise in drug-related violence in Rosario, located about 300 kilometers northwest of the capital, Buenos Aires.
Police said two men on a motorcycle fired at least a dozen shots into a Unico branch in the early hours, leaving a message on cardboard that said: “Messi, we are waiting for you. Javkin is also a drug trafficker, so he won’t take care of you.”
Messi has not commented. Considered by many to be the greatest soccer player of all time, Messi is revered in Argentina, especially since leading the national team to the country’s first World Cup victory aged 36 in Qatar in December.
Messi currently plays for Paris Saint-Germain and spends much of his time abroad, although he often visits Rosario where he has a home in the suburb of Funes. The French team posted a photo on social media of Messi training on Thursday morning.
In Rosario, prosecutor Federico Rébola said authorities were reviewing security camera footage and that the investigation was “preliminary.” It was the first time Messi’s in-laws had received this kind of threat, he added.
Celia Arena, the justice minister for Santa Fe province, where Rosario is located, said the attack amounted to “terrorism” by a “mafia” group meant to terrorize the wider population.
“The aim is to deliberately cause terror in the population and discourage those of us who fight against criminal violence, knowing that it will be an event of global importance,” Arena wrote in a post on social media.
Javkin, a centre-left politician in opposition to the ruling Peronist coalition, appeared to lose suspicion of complicity in the attack on both criminal gangs and federal security officials.
“I doubt everyone, even those who are supposed to protect us,” Javkin said in an interview with a local radio station.
He said he had recently had “very strong discussions” with members of the federal security forces over the past couple of weeks and demanded they crack down on the city’s crime scene.
“Where are those who need to take care of us?” Javkin said. “Obviously those who have the weapons and the ability to investigate the criminals are not doing that and it’s very easy for any gang to carry out something like this.”
Federal government security minister Aníbal Fernández said drug-related violence was not a recent phenomenon in the city and that Thursday’s attack was typical of what has happened there “for the past 20 years.”
He said the incident was an example of how drug traffickers “have won” in Rosario, but now “we have to turn it around.”
Opposition politicians blamed President Alberto Fernández’s administration for the continued violence in Rosario. His predecessor, Mauricio Macri, characterized the events as a warning that the country cannot “co-exist” with drug traffickers.
Messi, 35, is currently renegotiating a contract with Paris Saint-Germain that expires this year, amid speculation that the soccer star may decide to end his career playing for one of Rosario’s local clubs, Newell’s.
Messi, who this week won FIFA’s best men’s player award, could travel to Argentina later this month to join the national squad in playing two friendlies. One takes place on March 23 against Panama in Buenos Aires, while the other is five days later against Curacao in the northern city of Santiago del Estero.