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Ramos, an ally of Duterte, said: 'We are all victims of martial law.We would be much higher now in the ranking of nations, in the appreciation of other nations for the Philippines, if we did not have martial law.'As a military man, please understand how deep my statements are.One policeman was similarly caught at a checkpoint set up by the militants and beheaded on Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte said.Isnilon Hapilon, an Arabic-speaking Islamic preacher known for his expertise in commando assaults, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in 2014.

The situation is very fluid and movements are dynamic because we wanted to out-step and out-manoeuvre them,' he said. Two military helicopters flew above Marawi and armoured tanks churned through its streets as automatic rifle firing could be heard on Thursday, according to an AFP photographer in the city.

Authorities said ending the crisis was proving extremely hard because the militants were holed up in residential buildings, had planted improvised bombs in the streets and had taken Catholic hostages. Hundreds of civilians, including children, were sheltering in a military camp in Marawi City on Thursday.

The fighting erupted on Tuesday after security forces raided a house where they believed Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the infamous Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom gang and Philippine head of IS, was hiding.

Earlier in the day Solicitor General Jose Calida accused foreign jihadi fighters of 'invading' the country after failing to join ISIS in Syria.

Indonesian and Singaporean fighters were among those recruited by the Maute group before their attack.

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