The US Senate approved legislation that would allow 9/11 victims and their relatives to sue Saudi Arabia over its possible role in the 2001 attacks, a bill which could escalate a diplomatic firestorm between the two nations.
The Senate’s passage of the bill will now be taken up in the House of Representatives.
The bill, however, carves out an exception to the law if foreign countries are found culpable of terrorist attacks that kill American citizens within the county.
If the bill is passed by both houses and be signed by the president, it could clear a path for the role of the Saudi government to be examined in the September 11 suits.
Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat and a sponsor of the bill, said the legislation would help the families of the victims seek justice.
“For the sake of the families, I want to make clear beyond the shadow of a doubt that every entity, including foreign states, will be held accountable if they are found to be sponsors of the heinous act of 9/11,” the New York Times quoted him, as saying shortly before the bill’s passage.
“If the Saudis did not participate in this terrorism, they have nothing to fear about going to court. If they did, they should be held accountable,” he added.
The bill’s sponsors included a new provision that would allow the attorney general to put a hold on individual court cases if the administration can show that it is negotiating with the defendant government to resolve the claims, in a move intended to address some White House concerns.
A release from Mr. Schumer’s office said the administration would need to provide details about the talks and a timetable for their resolution.
As the legislation is moving through Congress , the Obama administration is still considering whether to declassify a portion of a 2002 congressional investigation of the 9/11 attacks that pointed that that Saudi government officials and other Saudicitizens had a hand in the terrorist plot.
However, conclusions are yet to be released publicly.
The Obama administration has been under pressure to release 28 classified pages from a congressional inquiry that alleged Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Though 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens,Saudi leaders have clearly denied any responsibility for the 9/11 attacks.
The White House is weighing whether to release some of the findings or not.
Meanwhile, one of the authors of the 28 pages publicly has been pressuring the administration.
Former Florida Senator Bob Graham had said that the pages point a strong finger at Saudi Arabia as a chief financier of the attacks. He also accused that the White House of covering up the truth.
“All the evidence points to Saudi Arabia. We know that Saudi Arabia started al Qaeda,” Graham told “Meet the Press” in April, reports the New York Post.
The September 11 commission, which began its work after the congressional inquiry, found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or seniorSaudi officials individually funded Al Qaeda or the 9/11 plotters.
The commission’s co-chairmen, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton had last month issued a statement saying that the 28 pages “were based almost entirely on raw, unvetted material that came to the F.B.I.”
“Accusations of complicity in that mass murder from responsible authorities are a grave matter. Such charges should be levied with care,” the New York Times quoted the statement as saying.
The Saudi government in March had warned that if the legislation passes, the Kingdom might begin selling off up to $750 billion in Treasury securities and other assets in the United States before they face a danger of being frozen by American courts.