Schumer: JASTA bill would allow suits against foreign countries for financing terrorism on American soil

Senator Charles Schumer with Terry Strada, who lost Senator Charles Schumer with Terry Strada, who lost her husband Thomas and is the national co-chair of 9/11 Families United for Justice Against Terrorism, and families of 9/11 victims announces that the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to take up a bipartisan bill that would allow families to sue countries, such as Saudi Arabia, that fund terrorist groups such as Al Qaida, the Islamic State and Hamas during a news conference at the World Trade Center memorial on Monday, Sept. 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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A proposed law that would allow families of victims to sue any foreign state found to have financed terrorism on U.S. soil is headed for the Senate Judiciary Committee later this month, officials said.

The proposed bill -- known as JASTA, or the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act -- was introduced a year ago by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford).

Schumer, a member of the Senate Judiciary committee, announced in a news conference Monday that the panel will take up the proposed law on Sept. 11. A Schumer news release said there had been a "breakthrough agreement" with the chairman of the committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) to consider the bill.

An aide to the Senate Judiciary Committee said the committee will review the bill for changes and amendments when Congress returns from recess this week but would not say whether a particular action would take place on Sept. 11.

"This is the first big legislative step forward since it was introduced last fall," said Meredith Kelly, a Schumer spokeswoman.

Schumer made the announcement at the National September 11 Memorial reflecting pools where the Twin Towers once stood, alongside the families of victims.

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"Terrorism just didn't happen on its own," said Schumer. "It took money. There were many countries and groups that funded al-Qaida. Today, similar groups are funding ISIS and yet when these families wanted to sue these countries and groups the courts told them they had no basis -- a very unfair ruling."

JASTA would allow terrorism victims, like victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, the right to pursue foreign states and sponsors of terrorism in federal court, according to Schumer's office.

Schumer said the bill, if passed, would "apply to 9/11 and all acts of terrorism thereafter." He said it "will cut off terrorists' resources from countries and groups that aid and abet terrorism and it will serve as a warning that they can't get away scot-free."

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JASTA would amend the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act so that foreign sponsors of terrorism cannot invoke "sovereign immunity" in cases arising from a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, according to Schumer's office.

Members of the 9/11 Families United for Justice Against Terrorism have pushed for the legislation. They have claimed Saudi Arabia and its rulers are legally responsible for the terror attacks. But lower courts dismissed much of their lawsuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court last June declined to get involved.

Kathy Owens, 55, of Mineola, who lost her husband, Peter, 42, an employee of Cantor Fitzgerald, said: "It's just not right that no one who financed these attacks is being held accountable."

Terry Strada, national co-chair of Justice Against Terrorism, whose husband Thomas, 41, also a Cantor Fitzgerald employee, was killed on 9/11, said "my family was torn apart by terrorism and it can happen again."

"These 19 hijackers were being funded to live here, paying for their airplane lessons, renting their apartments, renting their cars," Strada said. "We need to go after the people who were behind 9/11. Al-Qaida was only the hired hit men."

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With Tom Brune