The US Senate [official website] unanimously approved a bill [S 2040, PDF] on Tuesday that would let the families of those killed in the September 11 attacks [JURIST backgrounder] sue Saudi Arabia for any role it had in the terrorist plot. The Saudi government has warned [NYT report] that if such legislation passes it may begin selling off up to $750 billion in Treasury securities and other assets in the US. Questions about the role Saudi Arabia played in 9/11 have lingered for more than a decade. Until now, previous attempts to sue Saudi Arabia have been foiled [Reuters report] due to laws that give foreign nations immunity for lawsuits in American courts. This bill creates an exception for foreign countries that are found culpable for terrorist attacks that kill American citizens within the US. The bill must now pass through the House before it goes to the president’s desk. US President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the legislation.
This is not the first time that litigation against Saudi Arabia for the 9/11 attacks has been an issue. In 2012 judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed a motion [JURIST report] to reinstate Saudi Arabia as a defendant in a civil compensation lawsuit by victims against the perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The claim against Saudi Arabia was dismissed [JURIST report] in 2008 by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit due to insufficient evidence that the Kingdom’s princes has actual knowledge that their money was going to be used in the attacks. In 2005 Judge Richard Casey dismissed [PDF text; JURIST report] Saudi Arabia, its defense minister and its ambassador to the UK as defendants in litigation stemming from the terrorist attacks, ruling that all had sovereign immunity [Cornell LII backgrounder].