The US Senate has passed a bill allowing families of the 2001 September 11 terrorist attack to sue the Saudi Arabian government for damages.
Saudi Arabia has denied responsibility for the attack and strongly objected to the bill, threatening to sell up to $750bn in US securities and other American assets if it became a law, according to a report by the ABC.
“What (Congress is) doing is stripping the principle of sovereign immunities which would turn the world for international law into the law of the jungle,” Saudi foreign minister Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir said in a statement on Tuesday.
The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act passed the Senate by a unanimous vote, though the White House has threatened a veto.
“This legislation would change longstanding, international law regarding sovereign immunity,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told a daily press briefing.
“And the President of the United States continues to harbor serious concerns that this legislation would make the United States vulnerable in other court systems around the world.”
First it will be taken up by the House of Representative, where the Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the measure.
JASTA would remove sovereign immunity, which prevents lawsuits against governments, if the bill were to become a law, allowing lawsuits to proceed in the federal court. But lawyers would have to prove that the Saudis were involved in the attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.
Lawyer James Kreindler, a lawyer representing victims in the September 11 attack, successfully represented victims of the 1988 Pan American Airways flight bombing over Scotland.
“It would be crazy for Obama to veto bipartisan legislation [which would] open courts to victims of the worst terrorist attack in US history,” he said.
One co-sponsor of the bill, Republican Senator John Cornyn, said the bill doesn’t target Saudi Arabia but that critics may say a classified section of a report on the attacks implicate Riyadh, the Saudi Arabian capital.
“I don't believe that this will be destructive of the relationship that we have with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he said, adding that it would be up to the courts to decide if the Saudis were liable.