January 14, 2015 5:00 PM EST

French photographer Julien Pebrel has been covering for TIME the aftermath of the deadly Paris attacks, which claimed the lives of 17 people — including eight journalists at the satirical Charlie Hebdo newspaper.

“The mood in Paris last week was difficult to describe,” Pebrel tells TIME. “There was sadness, surprise. People were just in shock. When I talked to my colleagues and friends, none of them could work these first few days.”

That first evening, Jan. 7, as thousands of people came together at Place de la République in the center of Paris, Pebrel remembers seeing protesters spell out the words “Not Afraid” in signs. “The gathering was beautiful, silent and respectful,” he says. “There were a lot of young people – people who had never read Charlie Hebdo or [its predecessor] Hara Kiri.”

From the attacks, a sense of national unity has formed, says Pebrel. “In the streets, people are nicer, more polite with each other. They smile. There’s a sort of shared compassion—at least, that’s what I’ve seen,” he says. “I know that there’s been a rise in the number of anti-Muslim acts, so I guess some people react differently to these attacks.”

Pebrel senses that Muslims in France are growing wary. On Jan. 13, he visited the Addawa Mosque in Paris, where Cherif Kouachi, one of the two gunmen who attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo, met with a jihadi recruiter for Iraq in 2004. “When one man saw me arrived, he told me: ‘More media, you’re going to say bad things about Islam once again.’ That’s when you realize that there’s a real gap [in our society],” says Pebrel. “We talked. It was friendly, but that’s when you realize that Muslims in France fear they will become scapegoats.”

Julien Pebrel is a French photographer based in Paris and represented by MYOP.

Alice Gabriner, who edited this photo essay, is TIME’s International Photo Editor.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

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