The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation on Friday that would allow the families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia's government for damages, despite the White House's threat to veto the measure.
The U.S. Senate in May unanimously passed the "Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act," known as JASTA. The bill's passage in the House by voice vote, two days before the 15th anniversary of the attacks that killed about 3,000 people, was greeted with cheers and applause in the chamber.
"We can no longer allow those who injure and kill Americans to hide behind legal loopholes, denying justice to the victims of terrorism," said Republican Representative Bob Goodlatte, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Fifteen of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers who crashed airliners in New York, outside Washington and in Pennsylvania were Saudi nationals. The Saudi government, which strongly denies responsibility, has lobbied against the bill.
Opponents of the measure said it could strain relations with Saudi Arabia and lead to retaliatory laws that would allow foreign nationals to sue Americans for alleged involvement in terrorist attacks.
The White House on Friday reiterated that President Barack Obama would veto the bill.
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JASTA would remove sovereign immunity, preventing lawsuits against governments, for countries found to be involved in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. It also would allow survivors, and relatives of those killed in them to seek damages from other countries.
In this case, it would allow suits to proceed in federal court in New York as lawyers try to prove that the Saudis were involved in the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Previous versions of the bill had stalled in Congress because they provided fewer protections for countries against lawsuits.
Lawmakers had been under intense pressure from the Sept. 11 families to pass JASTA before the 15th anniversary of the attacks on Sunday.