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Senate passes Bill to let 9/11 families sue Saudi Arabia

Published 17/05/2016

The legislation gives the families of 9/11 victims the right to sue in US courts for any role that elements of the Saudi government may have played in the 2001 attacks (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
The legislation gives the families of 9/11 victims the right to sue in US courts for any role that elements of the Saudi government may have played in the 2001 attacks (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The US Senate has approved legislation that would allow the families of 9/11 victims to sue the government of Saudi Arabia, despite a White House veto threat and fierce objections from Riyadh.

The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, approved by voice vote, had triggered a threat from Riyadh to pull billions of dollars from the US economy if it is enacted.

The legislation, sponsored by senators John Cornyn and Chuck Schumer, gives victims' families the right to sue in US courts for any role that elements of the Saudi government may have played in the 2001 attacks that killed thousands in New York, the Washington DC area and Pennsylvania.

Relatives of victims have urged the Obama administration to declassify and release US intelligence that allegedly discusses possible Saudi involvement in the attacks.

Passage of the Bill, which will now be taken up in the House, sends the message that the United States "will combat terrorism with every tool we have available, and that the victims of terrorist attacks in our country should have every means at their disposal to seek justice", Mr Cornyn said.

Mr Schumer said that any foreign government that aids terrorists who strike the US "will pay a price if it is proven they have done so".

Senate Democrats had firmly supported the legislation, putting them at odds with the Obama administration. The White House has said the Bill could expose Americans overseas to legal risks.

Mr Schumer was confident the Senate had the 67 votes to override a presidential veto.

"We don't think their arguments stand up," the New York politician told reporters at a news conference after the Senate action.

Senator Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate subcommittee that controls foreign aid, had blocked the Bill from moving to the Senate floor until changes were made to ensure the legislation did not backfire on the United States.

His apprehension was rooted in the possibility a foreign country could sue the United States if the door is opened for US citizens to take the Saudis to court. Mr Graham released his hold earlier this month, clearing the way for Senate action.

Senator John McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, had warned that the legislation, if passed, would alienate Saudi Arabia and undermine a long-standing yet strained relationship with a critical US ally in the Middle East.

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