US Senate passes bill allowing 9/11 suits against foreign governments

Families of victims of the 9/11 terrorist strikes hailed the US Senate's passage Tuesday of legislation that would allow them to sue foreign sponsors they believe were behind the attacks.

The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which must still pass the lower House of Representatives, cleared the Senate in a voice vote without opposition.

Family members of victims of the 2001 terrorist strikes against New York and Washington said they were "gratified by the United States Senate's unanimous passage," in a statement issued through a lawyer representing the group in court.

The proposed law "reaffirms the common sense principle that no person, entity or government enjoys blanket immunity from legal responsibility for participation in a terrorist attack that takes lives or causes injury inside the United States of America," the group said.

The families have long sought to sue Saudi Arabia, claiming links between terrorist network al-Qaeda and the Saudi government.

President Barack Obama has opposed the legislation.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama continues to "strongly oppose" the Senate measure as eroding the principle of sovereign immunity, increasing the vulnerability of US interests in foreign courts.

If the bill passes the House, it would advance to Obama, and Earnet said it was "difficult to imagine" that he would sign it into law.

The measure, which was recently revised before the Senate passage to address some of the White House's objections, is "narrowly tailored to apply only to terrorist attacks on our soil," the 9/11 families said.

"While issues of all kinds can result in fair differences of opinion, the fact that not a single member of the Senate disagrees that JASTA is good policy speaks volumes."

According to past media reports, officials from Saudi Arabia have threatened to sell the kingdom's assets in the United States if such legislation becomes law.

The families derided as "hollow" the purported threat of disinvestment: "Economists and financial experts have pointed out that any such move would hurt Saudi Arabia far more than it would hurt the United States."

The Senate legislation narrows the sovereign immunity of other governments in federal courts, allowing lawsuits against foreign states for injuries, death and damages inside the United States as a result of a tort, including an act of terrorism, committed anywhere by a foreign state or official.

New York Senator Charles Schumer said US was "one step closer to justice for the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks" after Tuesday vote, and urged the House to vote on the measure.

"In their pursuit of justice, 9/11 families were told American law prevented them from pursuing justice against those who funded the attacks," he said.

"JASTA will help these families seek justice and also serve as a deterrent to other nations who'd assist in terror attacks against Americans."

Last update: Tue, 28/06/2016 - 17:25
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