The US Senate has passed legislation that would allow families of 11 September victims to sue government of Saudi Arabia for damages, a move that could potentially be vetoed by the White House.

Saudi Arabia, has denied responsibility for attacks on US soil, and has strongly objected to the bill. Riyadh had reportedly said it might sell up to $750bn in US debt and other assets if it became law.

The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (Jasta), was passed by Senate in a unanimous vote and it will next be taken up by the House of Representatives, where the Judiciary Committee intends to hold a hearing on the measure in the near future, news agency Reuters quoted a committee aide as saying.

Enactment of Jasta as a law would remove the sovereign immunity, preventing lawsuits against governments, for countries found to be involved in terrorist attacks on US soil. It would allow survivors of the attacks, and relatives of those killed in the attacks, to seek damages from other countries.

In this case, it would allow lawsuits to proceed in federal court in New York as lawyers try to prove that the Saudis were involved in the September 11 attacks.

Saudi reaction

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir has said Saudi Arabia’s objection to the bill is based on principles of international relations. “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,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.

James Kreindler, a prominent trial lawyer who represents 9/11 families and won large payouts for the victims of the 1988 bombing of Pan American Airways Flight 103 over Scotland, said he expected the bill to pass the House and become a law.

“It would be crazy for (President Barack) Obama to veto bipartisan legislation (which would) open (US) courts to victims of the worst terrorist attack in US history,” Kreindler said.

Republican Senator John Cornyn, a sponsor of the bill, said Jasta does not target Saudi Arabia, although he alluded to a still-classified section of a report on the 11 September attacks that Saudi critics say might implicate Riyadh.

“We have yet to see the 28 pages that have not been yet released about the 9/11 report, and that may well be instructive,” the news agency quoted Cornyn as saying at the news conference. Other lawmakers who have seen the 28 pages have said releasing them would quiet such rumors.

The White House said Obama still plans to veto Jasta.

“This legislation would change long-standing, international law regarding sovereign immunity,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told a daily press briefing. “And the president of the United States continues to harbour serious concerns that this legislation would make the United States vulnerable in other court systems around the world.”