This article is primarily concerned with social psychological explanation of the conduct of al-Qaeda terrorism. Al-Qaeda is a network of cells dispersed worldwide and in cooperation with local militant Islamist groups. Since it has characteristics and dynamics of its own that are distinct from traditional actors in international politics, an attempt to understand al-Qaeda as an actor and conduct of its terrorist behavior requires looking well beyond the traditional approaches in international relations scholarship as well as group level analysis, interdisciplinary research and focus on context and process. In this sense, social psychology accounts appear to have explanatory power to understand the al-Qaeda network and conduct of its activities. The article takes the idea of collectivity and moral disengagement from coercive action as two main social psychological dynamics of the terrorist conduct and primarily argues that al-Qaeda affiliated groups morally disengage from detrimental conduct through Bandura’s disengagement mechanisms and within a collective context.
Keywords: International Terrorism, Terrorist Behavior, al-Qaeda, Social Psychology, Mechanisms of Moral Disengagement, Idea of Collectivity