DENVER — Three Afghan prison employees who went missing over the weekend from a Colorado training facility weren’t believed to pose a threat, a state prison official said Monday, and authorities remain most concerned about the visitors’ welfare.

The missing guards are part of a group from Afghanistan training at the International Correctional Management Training Center in Canon City, which is run by the Colorado Department of Corrections. The three failed to return Saturday night after an organized trip, department spokesman Mark Fairbairn said.

It’s the third time participants in the federally-backed training program have gone missing in recent years.

Fairbairn said the three trainees underwent background checks and vetting by the U.S. State Department and the department’s primary concern is ensuring their safety.

“The students were in the United States on temporary visas,” Fairbairn said in a weekend statement. “The Department of Corrections’ primary concern is the safety of the missing participants as would be the case with any guest in our country.”

If participants are at the center for more than a week, they go on outings on the weekends to sightsee, to shop and learn about the culture of the United States, Fairbairn said. He said department officials learned that the three trainees did not return from an unspecified trip to Colorado Springs on Saturday night and notified the department’s inspector general.

The extent of any search for the guards wasn’t clear on Monday. Fairbairn did not know whether other agencies, state or federal, were told that the trainees had gone missing but said the department had not been notified of any risk of terrorism.

“I believe if there was a threat of any kind of terrorism that that would be conveyed to the public,” he said.

Representatives for the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management said their agencies weren’t involved in any search. A spokesman for the FBI office in Denver declined to comment on whether the agency is searching for the group.

The center opened in 2011 and hosts students ranging from corrections guards to executives overseeing prisons around the world to attend classes on various skills.

Two Afghan trainees at the facility disappeared in two separate instances in 2013 and 2014.

Based on department records obtained in the months afterward, The Denver Post (http://dpo.st/2wrEoFE) reported that one of them was caught while trying to enter Canada and the other, who reportedly had contacts in a neighboring state, remained at large.

Fairbairn referred questions about the second trainee to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.


Associated Press writer Josh Lederman in Washington contributed.