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Pilot after Somalia emergency: Airplane security is "zero"

After a suicide bombing forced him into an emergency landing, Capt. Vlatko Vodopivec says dozens of people can access aircraft as they wait on the tarmac at Mogadishu Airport.

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    Capt. Vlatko Vodopivec, the pilot who had landed a jetliner in Somalia with a large hole on its fuselage drinks a cup of tea, during an interview with The Associated Press in Belgrade, Serbia, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. Mr. Vodopivec says he has never doubted it was caused by a bomb and described the security at Mogadishu airport as "zero."
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The Serb pilot who landed a jetliner in Somalia with a three-foot hole on its fuselage said Sunday he never doubted that it was caused by a bomb and describes the security surround the airplane at Mogadishu Airport as "zero."

A suicide bomber is suspected to have set off the explosive inside the plane, Somali officials said Saturday. The blast sucked a male passenger out of the plane and forced the aircraft to make an emergency landing Tuesday in Somalia's capital, they said.

The explosion happened about 15 minutes after the plane, with 74 passengers on board, took off from the airport and was at 11,000 feet ascending toward 30,000 feet.

"If we were higher, the whole plane could have disintegrated after the explosion," said pilot Vlatko Vodopivec.

At a higher altitude, the hole in the fuselage might have caused more severe structural damage, he said.

Because the plane was at a lower altitude, he was able to land it safely, Vodopivec said. "The plane acted normally and we virtually returned normally. Engines and hydraulics worked normally.

The explosion killed one passenger, Abdullahi Abdisalam Borle, according to Somali officials who did not give further details. A man's body was found in the town of Balad, 30 kilometers (about 18 miles) north of Mogadishu, according to police who said he might have been blown from the plane.

Borle is suspected to have been the suicide bomber, the AP was told by a senior Somali civil aviation official, who insisted on anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press. Six people have been arrested in connection with the blast after examinations of CCTV images in the airport, a senior Somali intelligence official said.

The pilot blamed the incident on the lack of security around the plane at Mogadishu Airport, describing the facility as chaotic.

"The security is zero. When we park there, some 20 to 30 people come to the tarmac," said Vodopivec, a veteran pilot who has made numerous flights to the airport. "No one has a badge or those yellow vests. They enter and leave the plane, and no one knows who is who ... They can put anything inside when passengers leave the aircraft."

Somalia's government has said it will tighten security at the airport to prevent other threats.

Somalia faces an insurgency from the Islamic extremist group al-Shabab, which has carried out deadly attacks in Somalia and neighboring countries.

Daallo Airlines, which is based in Dubai, has temporarily suspended its operations in Somalia's capital following the incident but hopes to restart them soon, said Mohammed Ibrahim Yassin, the airline's chief executive.

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