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House OKs Syrian refugee screening bill

The House passed a bill on Thursday that would aim to increase screenings and suspend the program to admit Syrian refugees into the United States.

The vote was 289 to 137 for the measure, which moved forward after the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris last week. It fell largely along party lines, although dozens of President Barack Obama's fellow Democrats broke with the White House to vote for the bill.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said earlier that legislation to "pause" the acceptance of Syrian refugees into the United States was "an urgent matter" to protect Americans from possible infiltration by Islamic State militants. He said we "must remember that our first priority is to protect the American people."

The measure would require the FBI to conduct background checks on Syrian and Iraqi refugees. It would oblige the heads of the FBI and Homeland Security Department and the director of national intelligence to certify to Congress that each refugee "is not a threat to the security of the United States."

The bill passed the house after a series of attacks in Paris left 129 dead and hundreds more injured.

FBI Director James Comey said Thursday he was not aware of any "credible threat" in the United States. He added that the agency is "watching people of concern" in the U.S. using all legal tools.

Nov. 13 mastermind is killed

An undated photograph of a man described as Abdelhamid Abaaoud that was published in the Islamic State's online magazine Dabiq and posted on a social media website.
Social Media Website via Reuters
An undated photograph of a man described as Abdelhamid Abaaoud that was published in the Islamic State's online magazine Dabiq and posted on a social media website.

Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected Belgian mastermind behind the attacks, was among the dead identified in Wednesday's raid by French forces in the northern Paris district of Saint-Denis a French prosecutor confirmed.

Abaaoud, a 28-year-old Belgian militant, who had boasted of mounting attacks in Europe for the so-called Islamic State, was accused of orchestrating Friday's coordinated bombings and shootings in the French capital, which killed 129 people.

The prosecutors said in a statement Abaaoud was identified from his fingerprints. It was not clear whether the suspected terrorist self-exploded.

French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Abaaoud was behind four of six foiled attacks since the spring. He added he could have been involved in the attack on a Thalys train in August, when a gunman was overpowered by passengers including a member of the U.S. National Guard.

Belgian forces launch raids

Security forces personnel walk past during ongoing operations in the Molenbeek district of Brussels on November 16, 2015.
John Thys | AFP | Getty Images
Security forces personnel walk past during ongoing operations in the Molenbeek district of Brussels on November 16, 2015.

News of Abaaoud's death followed the launch of a fresh wave of anti-terror raids in Brussels on Thursday morning as Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel announced new measures to step up the fight against terrorism.

The Belgian prosecutor's office told CNBC that authorities carried out a total of nine raids, leading to nine arrests.

Raids in central Brussels and the districts of Jette, Ukkel and Molenbeek were carried out, targeting friends and family members of Bilal Hafdi, one of the suicide bombers who detonated their suicide vests outside the Stade de France in Paris on Friday.Those were part of investigation launched in early 2015, Belgian media cited a prosecutor's spokesman as saying.

'We will not cede to fear'

Meanwhile, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel announced new measures in parliament to combat violent extremism. The country will spend another 400 million euros ($427 million) on the fight against terrorism.

"We will not cede to fear," Michel told parliament.

Jihadists who return to Belgium from Syria will be jailed, he announced, while extremist preachers will be banned and unregistered places of worship closed down.

The Brussels district of Molenbeek, and with it the rest of Belgium, has come under intense scrutiny following Friday's brutal attacks in Paris. At least two of the attackers had been living there, according to authorities.

Chemical warfare risk

In the wake of Friday's attacks, France's Prime Minister has warned of a risk of chemical warfare. Speaking to parliament, he said the "macabre imagination of the masterminds is limitless."

The country's National Assembly voted in favor of an extension of the state of emergency in the country.

At the European Parliament in Brussels, the chief of Europol said Europe was likely to face new Islamic State attacks. European justice and i interior ministers will meet in Brussels on Friday to discuss beefing up security and new counter-terrorism measures. They are expected to back tighter security checks at external borders, Reuters reported.

Italy on high alert

Attention is also turning to Italy, where the U.S. embassy has warned that major tourist sites in Rome and Milan could be targets for potential terrorist attacks.

In a statement on its website, the Rome-based embassy said St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, Rome, as well as Milan's Duomo and La Scala were possible targets. Churches, synagogues, restaurants, theaters, and hotels in both cities are possible targets as well, it said. It warned that terrorist groups may possibly utilize similar methods used in the recent Paris attacks. The Italian authorities are aware of these threats.

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— Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.