Tuesday, January 15, 2019.
A man dressed in nondescript, bulky dark clothing walked toward the entrance of a high-end restaurant where people were laughing and chatting, enjoying their lunch. The restaurant, part of a hotel complex that houses American businesses and guests as well as Nairobi locals, was situated across the road from the Australian embassy.
It was a beautiful, sunny day in Kenya’s capital city.
The man paused at the door to survey the diners.
Then, without warning, he pulled two hand grenades from a bag he was carrying, depinned them, and hurled them – one into the restaurant, the other into the car park. Nobody had time to react, and a second later, all hell broke loose.
Deafening explosions. Flame and smoke and shrapnel tore through the restaurant even as nearby vehicles violently exploded, several others igniting as their fuel tanks were ruptured by white-hot shards of fragmented steel.
Ignoring the screams of injured and dying people around him, the man in the dark clothing opened his jacket, looked down, grabbed a handle made of wire. He yanked it, and the suicide bomb strapped to his body detonated, the explosion annihilating the restaurant and reducing the surrounding infrastructure to rubble, amidst a maelstrom of fire and chaos.
And that was only the beginning.
Quiet Does Not Mean Soft
In 2018, I was in Nairobi to conduct training, present several workshops, and facilitate a high-level Krav Maga grading with a man who – to Kenyans, at least – needs no introduction.
The afternoon I arrived, it was hot – tropical hot – and dark, dramatic thunderclouds were beginning to blot out the sun. Outside my hotel, the suburb had been green, lush, and beautiful, the gardens forested and tranquil.
Now, we sat together at an eatery in the city, connecting and enjoying a quiet meal as we prepared for training the following morning. We were relaxed, easing into the evening, and nobody could have known that not too far from where we sat, less than a year later, a horrifying terrorist attack would again rock the city of Nairobi.
If you’ve ever met Inayat Kassam, you’ll know that he tends to keep to himself. He’s a man who appreciates privacy and understands the value of discretion. To an onlooker, he might even appear a little introverted, and in his own way, he is.
But when it comes to martial matters, Inayat is a force to be reckoned with. There are many – very many – things that I love about Inayat, but here’s one that really stands out for me: he’s incredibly humble.
He could walk around with an attitude, deservedly so, but he doesn’t. Despite his vast resume of skills and his real-life accomplishments, there’s a kind of quiet dignity and thoughtfulness in the way he speaks, the way he does things.
In many ways, Inayat Kassam exemplifies something held up as an ideal throughout the history of the martial arts: the cultivation of a gentleman warrior.
The Westgate Massacre
Back in 2013, the Westgate Shopping Center in Nairobi was attacked and besieged by a group of terrorists belonging to an organization called Al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab is a Central African terrorist militia that operates under the auspices and ideology of Al-Quaeda, and they’re about as fanatical as you get.
On that fateful day, as terrorists stormed the center and began taking hostages, a man happened to be nearby, and he got there before the cops or the army did.
Together with a colleague, Peter Bond, Inayat went into the center and began engaging the terrorists at point blank range – two civilians armed only with pistols against several dozen militants armed with AK47s, rocket propelled grenades and explosive devices. The multi-level mall was a scene of utter chaos, and more than 60 people perished at the hands of the terrorists, despite Inayat and Peter saving hundreds.
Together, they evacuated hundreds of people, engaging in running firefights and pinning down the terrorists until the security forces arrived. That action alone is a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment for pretty much anybody, but not for Inayat.
He didn’t know it yet, but a couple years later, the DusitD2 hotel and business complex in Nairobi would be targeted by the very same terrorist group. Suicide bombers, grenades, automatic weapons, and even more mayhem.
And once again, in an almost fateful way, one man would answer the call and get there first.
(L) Inayat Kassam, Des Brown
(R) Inayat Kassam, Peter Bond, Des Brown
Carry a Big Stick
Inayat Kassam isn’t built like a special forces commando member.
He’s physically unimposing, unless you get to close quarters with him and then suddenly realize how damn powerful he really is. But he typifies the concept known as the “gray man” – you’d walk past him on the street and not even remotely realize what he’s capable of.
When we train together, it’s often a rapid-fire exchange of questions and insights and ideas. And it’s because of men like Inayat that our system of Krav Maga is so evolutionary. He readily embraces our approach of extreme adaptability and fit-for-context, where we examine what will work best for each situation or individual – and then tailor our core principles and techniques to that purpose.
Inayat is the owner of a private security company, Scorpio Africa, where he provides bespoke training courses to corporate and diplomatic clients, including embassies and missions from countries around the world. In terms of close protection, tactical shooting, and hand-to-hand combat, he’s extraordinarily skilled.
But unlike some other members of the combatives fraternity, he doesn’t run around telling the world how great he is. In fact, quite the opposite. Incredibly, he downplays his achievements.
Theodore Roosevelt famously said: “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.”
When that first suicide bomber blew himself up at DusitD2 in 2019, Inayat raced to the scene as the group of terrorists took up positions inside the complex and began shooting and bombing. Maybe, when they saw a 50-year-old guy wearing an open-necked shirt getting out of his car and walking into the hotel, they probably thought he was a lost tourist who didn’t know what was going on.
But once Inayat got going, it didn’t take long for them to realize who they were messing with.
And their day suddenly got a lot worse.
Die Hard or Breaking Bad?
It’s hard not to draw a comparison between Inayat Kassam and the iconic John McClane in Die Hard.
After all, both men get pissed off with terrorists who’ve taken over a building. Both men head in with a handgun and a serious sense of personal justice. And both men do bad things to bad people.
But one of those men is real.
We were running through a list of techniques at the end of a long, hard week, and in the middle of training together, I asked Inayat a question: “Listen. What made you go in? I mean, you didn’t have to. The police and military were on their way.”
He paused, tilted his head.
“I couldn’t not go in,” he said. “There were people in there who love their families as much as I love mine. I’d like to think that if it was my wife or daughters who were being held hostage, that somebody would do the same for me.”
And that, folks, speaks volumes. As humans, we’re powerfully programmed to preserve our own lives. It takes a different kind of perspective to place the wellbeing of complete strangers above your own sense of safety – and to run into a situation where you sincerely believe you’re going to die.
And during the Westgate massacre, Inayat freely admits that there were moments when he thought he wasn’t getting out alive.
There are many people who get into martial arts, law enforcement, or the military for the wrong reasons. They have a point to prove, an axe to grind. They’re sometimes prone to using aggression as a crutch to hide a weak personality or simply to bully other people.
Instead of Die Hard, they’re in an episode of Breaking Bad. Wrong decisions are made, innocent people are hurt, and people like that get tossed into the dustbin of history.
Integrity counts. Character counts.
And when somebody acts selflessly instead of selfishly, with quiet compassion and the determination to see it through – those actions resonate into eternity. Those good, decent people get remembered, for all the right reasons.
And Inayat Kassam is one of those people.