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Attackers raid hotel in Somalia's capital after blasts, residents say

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Attackers in Somalia's capital stormed a hotel near the president's office on Thursday after a pair of explosions, residents and Reuters witnesses said, with al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab claiming responsibility for the raid.

Gunfire followed the Thursday evening blasts, the residents said, with unidentified attackers storming the Syl Hotel, which is a popular gathering place for government officials and lawmakers.

Police and other government spokespeople were not immediately reachable to comment.

"We first heard a huge blast, and then gunfire followed. We understand the fighters are inside (the hotel) for we hear exchange of gunfire," resident Farah Ali, who lives near the president's office, told Reuters.

A Reuters witness also said he heard a second explosion several minutes after the first one.

Hussein Abdullahi, another resident, said soldiers fired shots before the first blast and he heard the sound of a speeding car.

"And then gunfire followed. Second blast followed, we hear exchange of gunfire," he said.

Al Shabaab said they were behind the attack and had besieged the Syl Hotel.

"The armed Mujahideen control the hotel and are shooting workers and officers of the apostate government in the hotel,"

al Shabaab said in a statement.

In 2019, the group took responsibility for attacking the same hotel.

(Reporting by Abdi Sheikh and Feisal Omar; writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Toby Chopra)