MANILA, Philippines—A U.N. counterterrorism official said Thursday there was no evidence that Islamic State militants have gained a foothold in the Philippines, where Muslim rebels are active, but added that the country can take more steps to help fight a group that has vowed to expand its reach.
Filipinos belonging to two small but violent Muslim insurgent groups in the country’s south, including the al-Qaida-inspired Abu Sayyaf, have publicly vowed support to the Islamic State group, sparking concerns among Philippine security officials. There have been reports of Filipinos sneaking into Syria and Iraq to fight alongside the Islamic State group, but the military and police say there’s have found no proof of that after an investigation.
“There is no evidence that they are in the Philippines,” Jean-Paul Laborde of the U.N. Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate told a news conference in Manila.
He said that the Philippines and other countries should continue to shield their territories from the terrorists, including by strengthening laws and regulations to prevent local Muslim communities from being targeted for recruitment and to deprive the militants of financial resources.
“They will try to get as much as they can in terms of foreign terrorist fighters, in terms of finance, in terms of everything, so it’s possible that, one day, they will come to your country,” he said.
Laborde discussed counterterrorism steps with Philippine officials and praised the government for establishing an anti-terrorism council to oversee a battle against extremists.