Terrorists' personal constructs and their roles: A comparison of the three Islamic terrorists

David Canter, Sudhanshu Sarangi, Donna Youngs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


It is hypothesized that individuals who play different roles in terrorist organizations will have different psychological processes underlying their activities. An innovative examination of the personal construct systems of terrorists explored this. As part of a larger study, three individuals convicted of Islamic-related terrorist violence in India were interviewed using a semi-structured life narrative procedure enhanced by a Repertory Grid (Kelly, 1955/1991). One was a senior leader of a terrorist group, one a subordinate, the third a person who planted a bomb without full knowledge of the larger design he was part of. Principal component analyses of these grids informed by comments from the life narratives were used to elaborate each man's conceptual system and how it related to his commitment to violence. Important differences among the three individuals' in their construct systems were found. This demonstrated that the forms of Jihadi commitment is embedded in the individual's personal construct system. So, although these three case studies can only be taken as providing indicative results, they do point to aspects of construct systems that reveal the potential for disengagement, being most likely present in the lower echelons of terrorist organizations. Those who are unable to reconstrue themselves as having a non-terrorist future are unlikely to disengage. This is probably typical of those who lead these organizations. The results therefore contribute to the growing literature arguing for significant differences in terrorists' understanding of themselves and their roles and provide an original methodology for assessing a person's potential for deradicalization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)160-178
Number of pages19
JournalLegal and Criminological Psychology
Issue number1
Early online date15 Oct 2012
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2014


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