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Gulf states ‘profoundly worried’ about being sued by 9/11 families

Congressional bill would allow bereaved relatives of 9/11 victims to sue foreign governments, such as Saudi Arabia, for culpability in the attacks
A second hijacked commercial plane crashes into New York's World Trade Centre (AFP)

Gulf Arab states expressed concern on Monday over a bill passed by the US Congress that would allow relatives of victims of the 9/11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for compensation.

The six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, of which Saudi Arabia is the most powerful member, expressed its "profound worry" according to its secretary general, Abdullatif al-Zayani.

In a statement, he warned that the law "contravenes the foundations and principles of relations between states, notably sovereign immunity".

The US House of Representatives passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act by a unanimous voice vote on Friday. The Senate had already approved the bill four months ago and it now goes before President Barack Obama. However, the White House confirmed Monday that Obama will veto the bill.

"That's not an effective, forceful way for us to respond to terrorism," spokesman Josh Earnest said, adding that the text, which has raised major concerns among Washington's Gulf allies, has yet to reach the president's desk.However, a presidential veto can ultimately be overridden by a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress.

Zayani expressed hope that the US administration "will not endorse this law ... which will create a grave precedent".

Saudi Arabia is a long-standing US ally but it was also home to 15 of the 19 al-Qaeda hijackers who carried out the attacks on the United States on 11 September, 2001 in which almost 3,000 people died.

The draft bill would allow attack survivors and relatives of the victims of terrorism to pursue cases in US federal court against foreign governments and to demand compensation if such governments are proven to bear some responsibility for attacks on US soil.

Two GCC members - Qatar and the United Arab Emirates - also issued their own separate statements on Monday criticising the bill.