Increased fighting in Somalia and recent threat information indicating possible attacks against U.S. interests in East Africa have prompted the Department of Homeland Security to deny Delta Airlines their first direct flights to and from Nairobi, Kenya which were to begin today from the United States.
The flights were to embark from Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport and arrive in Nairobi with a welcoming ceremony with Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
Late on Monday night, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano decided to cancel the flights following recommendations from the Transportation Security Administration. According to one official Napolitano called Delta's CEO to inform Delta of the decision.
While Delta began the process to seek permission to fly to Nigeria, Liberia and Kenya last year the Transportation Security Administration did not clear the flights into Liberia and Kenya for security reasons. Delta currently has scheduled flights into Lagos, Nigeria.
Today in a statement the TSA said, "due to noted security vulnerabilities in and around Nairobi, and the failure to meet international security standards and appropriate recommended practices established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) at the Roberts International Airport in Monrovia, TSA is currently denying air service by Delta to Nairobi and Monrovia until security standards are met or security threat assessments change."
U.S. intelligence officials tell ABC News that there have been increased concerns about the use of Man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) striking an aircraft in the region.
In 2002 Al Qaeda operatives were behind an attempted MANPAD attack against a El-Al passenger jet flying out of Mombassa, Kenya. FBI officials believe Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, an Al Qaeda operative who remains at large was behind the attack.
Over the weekend threats claiming to be from a terrorist group were emailed to the Norwegian embassy in Kenya but Kenyan authorities dismissed the threats as a hoax.
Kenya, which borders Somalia, has been concerned about potential attacks as fighting and battles have increased in Somalia between transitional government forces and the insurgent group al Shabaab, which has links to Al Qaeda.
In a statement Delta Airlines said, "Delta regrets any inconvenience to our customers caused by the postponement of our new direct service to Kenya and Liberia. The airline is proactively contacting customers to reaccommodate them on long-established connecting flights offered by our joint venture partners Air France-KLM and other SkyTeam member airlines, which carry Americans to these destinations in Africa through their European hubs."
"Delta appreciates DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano's continued focus on finalizing approvals for Delta's direct service to Africa as quickly as possible," the statement added.
ABC's Matt Hosford contributed to this report.